Lucky to Live Sad Moments

Lucky to Live Sad Moments

"Sadness is poetic. You're lucky to live sad moments...Because we don't want that first bit of sad, we push it away...You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kind of satisfied with your product, and then you die." 

~ Louis C.K. 

Concocting Fictions with Seriousness

Excerpt from "The Novelist in Wartime," by Haruki Murakami,, Feb. 20, 2009:

Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: it is "the System." The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others -- coldly, efficiently, systematically.

I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist's job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories -- stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.

Read the rest of the essay here...

Pinned to the Cushion


I was completely surprised to discover that Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is much deeper than just a movie about someone who has to cut his arm off to survive. It’s also a brilliant account of being pinned to a de facto meditation cushion for an involuntary 5-day mindfulness intensive on the nature of thinking, feeling, the self, loving-kindness, and the liberation that can come from yielding to impersonal forces. The boulder deserves an Oscar nomination for a supporting role as both antagonist and teacher. I expected to feel uneasy, but instead I was completely absorbed in the clever depiction of an excruciating subjective experience of one person's suffering.

Aron Ralston said in one interview, "The entrapment created such an appreciation for the frolicking I had been doing until it happened and there was the euphoric feeling of being free and getting my life back again. Because of what happened, I understand what life is. I'm hopeful that people will see something inside of themselves, as well. I was in an extraordinary circumstance and it fundamentally came down to wanting to live and get back to my family. It is about survival, love and freedom — and those things are common in all of us."

The good news is that the profound yet practical insights Ralston carried out of Blue John Canyon can also be gradually cultivated through the consistent development of attentional skills over time. I enthusiastically recommend both the film and the effort required to experience high levels of concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity without waiting for the conditions to become so extreme.

Put the Lid on the Kettle

You Suspect This Could Be Yours
by Rumi, translated by Daniel Liebert

you suspect this could be yours
with a little contrivance

only death to contrivance
will avail you

something good or bad
always comes out of you
it is agony to be still;
the spool turns
when mind pulls the thread

let the water settle;
you will see moon and stars
mirrored in your being

when the kettle boils
fire is revealed
when the millstone turns
the river shows its power

put the lid on the kettle
and be filled
with the boiling of love.

The Combustion of Egoistic Delusions

Excerpt from “This Very Moment,” by Charlotte Joko Beck, from Ordinary Magic: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path:

Back in the 1920s, when I was maybe eight or ten years old, and living in New Jersey where the winters are cold, we had a furnace in our house that burned coal. It was a big event on the block when the coal truck rolled up and all this stuff poured down the coal chute into the coal bin. I learned that there are two kinds of coal: one was called anthracite or hard coal, and the other was lignite, soft coal. My father told me about the difference in the way those two kinds of coal burned. Anthracite burns cleanly, leaving little ash. Lignite leaves lots of ash. When we burned lignite, the cellar became covered with soot and some of it got upstairs into the living room.

What does this have to do with our practice? Practice is about breaking our exclusive identification with ourselves. This process has sometimes been called purifying the mind. To “purify the mind” doesn’t mean that you become holy or other than you are; it means to strip away that which keeps a person—or furnace—from functioning best.  The furnace functions best with hard coal. But unfortunately what we’re full of is soft coal. There’s a saying in the Bible: “He is like a refiner’s fire.” It’s a common analogy, found in other religions as well. To sit in meditation is to be in the middle of a refining fire. Eido Roshi said once, “This meditation hall is not a peaceful haven, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions.” A meditation hall is not a place for bliss and relaxation, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions. What tools do we need to use? Only one. We’ve all heard of it, yet we use it very seldom. It’s called attention.

Attention is the cutting, burning sword, and our practice is to use that sword as much as we can. None of us is very willing to use it; but when we do—even for a few minutes—some cutting and burning take place. All practice aims to increase our ability to be attentive, not just in meditation but in every moment of our life.

Through a Prism of Comedy

Jon Stewart, in conversation with Terry Gross, from “Jon Stewart: The Most Trusted Name In Fake News,” Fresh Air from WHYY, October 4, 2010:

Jon StewartThere was a congressional bill where they were going to get money for first responders for 9/11 for chronic health issues. And I mean, its a no-brainer. The people that went into the Towers—or were down there searching—to have their health bills taken care of and legislative maneuvering—the Democrats wouldn’t bring an up or down vote because if they did that the Republicans would be allowed to insert amendments. And one of the amendments that they could insert was that you could give any of the money to illegal aliens.

And so the Democrats were afraid that they would have a commercial that would be made that would say, you voted to give money to—so rather than standing up and being moral for the people that risked everything for us down there, they decided to try a legislative maneuver that made it so that two-thirds had to pass the bill, so that no amendments could be put in it. Well, the Republicans obviously, you know, shot it down—their own moral failing.

So we did a segment on the show called "I Give Up.”

And the ability to articulate our sense of just absolute sadness, but through a prism of comedy—like, we came in that morning just really despairing as we watched this go down. And we walked out that night feeling like we had yelled and felt, you know, we had put it through the prism and the synthesis and the digestive process that we put it through and we made ourselves feel better.

And we didn’t make ourselves feel better by ignoring it, by dismissing it, by not dealing with it. We made ourselves feel better by expressing our utter rage at the ineptness and lack of courage from our legislators and we walked out of there that night feeling like, you know, what, (bleep) good day's work. That was it.

Listen to the whole conversation here…


Bill Mankin, Studio 360 listener, describing how his feelings for Edith Piaf changed as he encountered her music at different points in his life (2.22.08):

"I had a high school French teacher named Mrs. Leike...this sort of dour appearing woman with her hair in a bun and glasses and a long, straight dress -- not particularly interesting, at least to us as teenagers.

"We were sitting at our little desks and she pulled out an LP and put it on the turntable and announced that she was going to expose us to something extremely wonderful. And began to play this really weird sounding woman singing. It was Edith Piaf. I distinctly remember that Mrs. Leike started crying. We thought that was the weirdest things we'd ever seen. So we rolled our eyes and hit each other under the desks and just had a laugh. That was it. I'd forgot all about it and never cared about Edith Piaf, that's for sure.

"Many years went by, and I had occasion to do some international travel. One evening I found myself in Brussels, Belgium looking for a drink of some sort and stumbled into this very strange, subterranean bar. It was dark. It took my eyes some time to adjust. Finally, I could see this place was full of stuff from World War II -- photos, flags, books, records, you name it. And there was this music in the air, coming out of these little tinny-sounding speakers and swirling around with the smoke and it was Piaf.

Edit Piaf "It was aching and pleading and world-weary, but also kind of sassy. Like she had a finger in your face and a defiant, clenched fist. It just made me feel like I was in another time. And then I left and it was like, Whoa! I had to catch my breath. It was like I had been shaken and then hurled back out onto the street. It was amazing.

"Recently I saw the movie La Vie en Rose, and I've had also in my bookcase a little, thin paperback which is Piaf's own life story that she wrote. It's really short -- about heartbreak and very hard living. And for some reason, all the pieces just slotted into place and this memory of Mrs. Leike, my French teacher, came flooding back. And I thought, Well, so that's what she was about. That was the point.

"I react to Piaf on a gut level. Essentially, she's challenging the doubters with everything she sings. In spite of it all, I'm gonna strut, I'm gonna dance, I shall not be vanquished. She's like this weak little heart fighting to beat its way out of this crushing crowd and when she does there's no stopping her. You kind of just want to raise your fist and cheer. If you don't cry when you're listening to Piaf, you're actually not listening.

"Apparently Mrs. Leike is deceased, but I would say, Look. If you happened to notice me in the back of the class that day, rolling my eyes and attempting to ignore you, I apologize. And I appreciate what you were trying to do. Thank you."