The Eight Similes of Illusion

Mirror image
Mirror image

This is a photo of an illusion; the table and cards are reflected in an old mirror. The objects may be real, which as you will see is debatable, but the reflected image does not exist.

In an attempt to understand what is and what is not real, I give you The Eight Similes of Illusion by Patrul Rinpoche. These should be taken seriously, and with careful contemplation, you may be able to use your illusion.

“As in a dream, all the external objects perceived with the five senses are not there, but appear through delusion.” This explains all those times I couldn’t find my car.

“As in a magic show, things are made to appear by a temporary conjunction of causes, circumstances and connections.” It’s an illusion Michael; a trick is something a whore does for money.

“As in a visual aberration, things appear to be there, yet there is nothing.” I can easily observe this by looking deeply into my checking account.

“As in a mirage, things appear but are not real.” If you have an illusory royal flush you may want to bluff.

“As in an echo, things can be perceived but there is nothing there, either outside or inside.” Note to self-test for echo.

“As in a city of Gandharvas, there is neither a dwelling nor anyone to dwell.” Fun fact: while Gandharva literally means smell eater, it’s also a term for singers in Indian classical music.

“As in a reflection, things appear but have no reality of their own.” See mirror image.

“As in a city created by magic, there are all sorts of appearances but they are not really there.” This is Disneyland in a nutshell, but you don’t have to tell the kids until they get older.

The Buddha said: “We live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.”

Deal me out, I got nothing.

The Right Track

The Right Track
The Right Track

Getting on the right track isn’t easy, even figuring out which is really the right one can be confusing. For example, the track on the left in this photo is actually the right track for the returning train, and sometimes they have to switch to the middle one to get to where they need to go.

It might be easier to think of it as a path, and as you may have discovered for yourself, people sometimes go down the wrong path to get to where they think they need to go. This is true for addiction and all kinds of things that come with living in this world of illusion.

Finding the right path takes as long as it takes, if you realize you’re on the wrong one, get off and begin again, repeat as necessary. Mahatma Gandhi said the path is the goal; my goal is to find the path to freedom.

This is a line from a song called Daly City Train by Rancid: “Some men are in prison even though they walk the streets at night, other men who got the lockdown are free as a bird in flight.”

There really is no easy way to be free.

Don’t Fear the Sunset

Pequea Marina
Pequea Marina

“There are those who fear the sunset, worried they will never see light again. There are those who ignore the sunrise, squandering dawn, believing they will never run out of daylight.

And then there are those who have learned to live in the sun’s warmth, gauging time by its positions, thankful at night that the day happened. Be aware of time. Use it wisely. Be thankful for the light allotted.” Richelle E. Goodrich

The Problem with Mayapples

Mayapples
Mayapples

The Mayapple was once called the witches umbrella, and was thought to be employed by them as a poison. The English version of this plant is called Manroot or mandrake, and is believed to be alive.

According to folklore, its screams when pulled from the ground would render a man permanently insane. The plant is almost entirely poisonous and was once used by Native Americans to commit suicide.

There is also an old mountain superstition that a girl who pulls up the root will soon become pregnant. If you can ignore those few little things, many people say the fruit makes a great jelly. I think I’ll pass.

Water Your Dreams

Amethyst Dream
Amethyst Dream

“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success.

Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” Lao Tzu

Existentialism Anatidae

Existentialism Anatidae
Existentialism Anatidae

“A kind of joy came upon him, as if borne in on a summer breeze. He dimly recalled that he had been thinking of failure-as if it mattered. It seemed to him now that such thoughts were mean, unworthy of what his life had been.

There was a softness around him, and a languor crept upon his limbs. A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.”

John Williams, Stoner

The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses

National Watch and Clock Museum
National Watch and Clock Museum

I remember the first time I heard someone say that there weren’t enough hours in the day. It was my friend Terry, a normal teenager like the rest of us, but with a lot more money, the hottest girl in high school, and the largest drug business in town.

I’ve never felt that way because like Albert Einstein, I believe that time is an illusion. But the world runs on time, our days are based on hours, minutes and seconds. And whether you believe in it or not, if you don’t show up to class or work people get upset.

There are 86,400 seconds in a day, and if you manage to sleep for eight hours a third of those are spent unconscious. It may still seem like a lot of time when you’re young, but as you get older you see how it slips away.

Charles Bukowski wrote a book of poems called The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills, a beautiful way to say what we all know but sometimes try to ignore. One of his many brilliant quotes is: “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

For those of you that would like a more clinical view from one of the most famous doctors of all time, I give you this from Dr. Seuss: “How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

Being and Nothingness

Being and Nothingness
Being and Nothingness

Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre has been called the bible of existentialism. It’s a long, difficult book to read, and depending on who you ask, it’s either a work of pure genius, complete nonsense or both.

It might be worthwhile to look at some other things that Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in order to understand existentialism and his perspective in general.

For example, he said: “All I really want to do is go to the book store, drink coffee and read.” Back in his day book stores didn’t even have Wi-Fi, so you know he was serious.

Another thing that’s crucial to understanding the man and his philosophy is this: “I do not think therefore I am a mustache.” Well, obviously.

And possibly the most important thing he ever said is: “Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”

This is especially true of most outdoor photography unless you plan to shoot wide open, convert to black and white, and call it something obscure like being and nothingness.

Never Jam Today

Fiddlehead Ferns
Fiddlehead Ferns

So I went to my favorite garden, in the rain, to photograph some flowers and call the post April showers. The problem with that is you really have to wait for the rain to stop.

I read the N.Y Post from cover to cover, drank a cup of coffee, smoked two cigarettes and it was still pouring. Patience is a virtue I thought, just relax and wait it out. But patience is not my strong suit, so I grabbed my camera and mini tripod, pulled up my hood and walked the path.

The rain was finally slowing down when I saw something amazing, fiddlehead ferns. They were trying to hide under a dripping bush, and I knew it would be easier tomorrow morning in better light, but I was already there.

The sun’ll come out tomorrow, so you gotta hang on ‘til tomorrow popped into my head, and I said screw that. I figured I can at least take a few shots to practice my composition, so I did.

According to the weather channel Annie was right, and maybe I can do better tomorrow, maybe not. Then I remembered what Alice discovered; “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Words to live by.

A Tale Told By an Idiot?

Bleeding hearts
Bleeding hearts

In Macbeth Shakespeare writes: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I have to admit that I’ve felt that way before, as most people probably have when they realize that they aren’t going to live forever. A tale told by an idiot seems a bit strong though, and if Shakespeare were around today he would probably get a prescription for Prozac, but I digress.

After a light rain I went to a garden full of flowers and trees in a nearby park, which in itself is something very special, and I noticed that the bleeding hearts were starting to bloom.

Walking down to a small pond with a waterfall, I looked at them as if they were something new to me, because they were. In a few weeks they will be completely gone, and they will come back next spring whether I’m there to see them or not.

Watching these absolutely amazing flowers I remembered the feeling I used to get after washing down a couple of Xanax with a glass of Vodka. It was a feeling of calmness, and I knew that even though the tale doesn’t last, I like to be here when I can.

I no longer need drugs and alcohol to get that feeling, a walk in the garden can do it in a heartbeat. If life signifies nothing, so be it, its only going to be a short walk anyway.

No Easy Way to be Free

No Easy Way to be Free
No Easy Way to be Free

I wrote this for a creative writing class in 2008, a couple of years after my third rehab. It’s about making new friends in a place known as The Ranch House on the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital. The guests call it what it is, a looney bin.

Peggy, the oldest, forever in her tattered robe, hopscotching down the hall when she’s not talking to herself or crying.

Adrian, the young, spoiled wannabe junkie, whining about not getting strong enough meds.

Stacy, fresh from the pizza shop, smiling and stumbling around on Seroquel.

Steve, the happy criminal, acting like he’s at summer camp.

Victor, a child in a forty year old body, slipping into schizophrenic rants about hidden cameras in the vents.

Donna, the large breasted, healthy looking nurse, explaining her addiction to Vicodin.

Sara, the stuck up prostitute, waltzing through the cafeteria like a queen.

Susan, the tough, freckled, career alcoholic trying to play bouncer.

Carl, his laces taken away, flapping down the hall all night in oversized shoes, driving everyone crazy.

Lucas, the seasoned gang member with the bitten off ear, bragging about his tragic childhood.

Tom, lanky and pale, trying to beat himself to death after a half-assed hanging attempt.

And me, a paragon of sanity, here with my friends.

The Decisive Moment

Yellow Columbine
Yellow Columbine

Yesterday I found these yellow columbines at Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse. The light was perfect, I had a tripod, and it was as calm as a virgin who never told a lie. But for some reason I ignored all that, I was indecisive and hungry so I left.

This afternoon I went back and it was cloudy and windy. I stayed for an hour in the hope that everything would change, it didn’t, the decisive moment was yesterday.

Henri Cartier-Bresson once said: “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

Dammit.

From the Boat to the Box

Death
Death

One of the mind training slogans called Lojong, brought to Tibet by Buddhist teacher Atisha is: “Regard all dharma as dreams.” Well that’s nice isn’t it, it’s like rowing your boat gently down the stream, but what exactly does this mean?

Pema Chodron explains it like this: “Simply, regard everything as a dream. Life is a dream. Death is also a dream, for that matter; waking is a dream and sleeping is a dream.” As simply as she put it, we just went from the little man in the boat to the old man in the box.

Eckhart Tolle said: “Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to die before you die-and find that there is no death.” This is the type of thing that every junkie will understand clearly, but what about those rare people that aren’t leading lives of quiet desperation?

The way I see it, at the end of our life we will realize that we could have done things differently, we could have done more with the time that we had. We don’t have to wait for that day.

Sh-boom, sh-boom, ya-da-da-da-da-da. Sh-boom, sh-boom, ya-da-da-da-da-da. Sh-boom, sh-boom, ya-da-da-da-da-da, Sh-boom.

Retirement-Now What?

Now What?
Now What?

Although I’m not officially retired, I haven’t worked in about nine years other than a very small online business. I get up every morning and ask myself the same question; now what? There are plenty of ways to fill your time but not all are equally satisfying.

Terri Guillemets once said that “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if retirement is a reward for a lifetime of hard work or a punishment.” I’m sure many people feel that way, especially if they’re struggling financially like myself, but it’s not only about the money.

I used to work for a guy that owned one of the largest restoration companies on Eastern Long Island. When he was well into his seventies he tried to retire and failed many times, preferring to work until he died.

I have a friend in Strasburg who is 78 years old and the best motorcycle mechanic in Pennsylvania. Until very recently, he worked six days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day by choice. The last time I saw him he told me he was retiring for good, but I have a feeling he’s back in his shop with a garage full of bikes and a smile on his face.

Both of these people had more money than they needed, but neither was the type to sit around and do nothing. When you retire you need a reason to get up in the morning, something to not only fill your time but to fill your life.

As hard as it may be to believe, especially if you’re nowhere near retirement age, doing nothing all day is not easy. Even Eckhart Tolle got tired of sitting around after a couple of years.

In Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, Pooh says: “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

When you’re three years old that may be great advice, but unless you drink heavily (not recommended) it’s not so great when you no longer have a job to go to and complain about for eight hours. Ah, those were the days…