Month: March 2017

The Gateless Gate

The Gateless Gate?
The Gateless Gate?

The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Zen koans compiled in the 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Mumon Ekai. Pausha Foley, an amazing artist and self described strange creature that doesn’t exist, explains the gateless gate in a way that even a child like me of 58 can understand:

“The gate is a creation of the human mind. As long as one believes oneself to be one’s mind, the gate is as solid and real as the mind is. As soon as one cases to identify with one’s mind however, the mind and all its creations reveal themselves as what they are: a bunch of ideas, devoid of any substance. So, from within the mind the gate exists, from outside of the mind it does not.”

If this isn’t crystal clear by now I give you koan 7, Joshu Washes the Bowl:

A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl”, said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

Of course one very important point must be made; if you don’t rinse your bowl before putting it in the dishwasher, it will not get completely clean and you will not be enlightened. The cleaning lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute says otherwise, but they also say that pre-rinsing is a needless time suck. Obviously they’ve never heard of the theory of relativity.

The Problem with Euphorbia

Euphorbia
Euphorbia

Euphorbia myrsinites, also known as myrtle euphorbia or donkeytail spurge, is one of the most useful and highly ornamental plants to grow in the garden.

Now for the bad news: the milky white sap has been known to cause extreme allergic reactions that in some cases can lead to anaphylactic shock, and visits to the emergency room are frequently reported.

Charles Bukowski wrote a book called The People Look Like Flowers At Last. This flower looks like the pretty college girl next door who works as an escort on weekends. Approach both with caution and use protection.

Gimme a Sign

Weaver's Bike Shop
Weaver’s Bike Shop

Adrienne Posey, an author born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania once wrote that signs don’t shout; they whisper. I didn’t know that when I took this photo but it makes a lot of sense now.

This is a sign for Weaver’s Bike Shop in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, a family operated business that has been serving customers since 1958. I found an interesting review about it on Yelp from a Lancaster man named George:

“I tried to find this place and I’m still not sure that I did. I think it’s an Amish guy who fixes bikes for other Amish kids. It’s not really a shop, just a garage near a barn with some bikes outside. There is no sign out front, only one at each end of the street pointing in opposite directions.”

Well George, there are two red bicycles mounted on a post pointing in the direction of the shop with the name on an arrow. Apparently he never heard that signs don’t shout; they whisper.

I learned several things that day, first, if you don’t look for signs you can easily miss them. I also learned that rather than driving around winding back roads for 30 minutes, you can find the address and directions online in 30 seconds.

But the main thing I learned is that everything that has been said about selective coloring is true. It’s a blatant attempt to make a boring photo interesting and should only be used in very specific circumstances, like photographing a woman wearing a red bikini and red lipstick.

But I was in the heart of Amish country; where the women don’t wear lipstick and most don’t even own a bikini. And even if by some chance I found one that did, they usually don’t want their photo taken.

Although most Amish refuse to allow themselves to be photographed, some make a distinction between a photograph taken in a natural setting versus posing for one.

So if one day I happen to see an Amish woman in a red bikini, I will politely ask her if I can take her photo, but I won’t ask her to pose, and more important, all she has to do is act naturally. As for post processing with selective coloring, I’ll cross that covered bridge when I come to it.

Thoughts Are Not Real

Thoughts
Thoughts

You may have heard it said that our thoughts are not real, and you may have thought about it until you became as confused as Schrodinger’s cat. In Everyday Zen, Charlotte Joko Beck said that a thought in itself is just pure sensory input, an energy fragment. But wait, there’s more.

Eckhart Tolle spent almost two years sitting on park benches in what he says was a state of intense joy. So what was he thinking about all that time, and did he realize that his thoughts weren’t real?

Eventually he ran out of bird food or whatever and wrote an excellent book called The Power of Now, which began with a chapter called you are not your mind. He wrote: “To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”

But there is a difference between knowing that you are not your thoughts and knowing that thoughts are not real. A good example is when you see what looks like water on a hot road and you know that it’s not real, yet you still see it. You’re seeing an illusion; you can even take a photo of it, but it’s only an illusion.

The Buddha said: “A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.” Yes, so tell me again about the imaginary cat in the box Erwin.

Maybe Albert Einstein had it figured out when he said: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

So are some thoughts real and others only partially real? Are there good thoughts and bad thoughts? What is the sound of one hand clapping? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Who’s on first?

Lao Tzu said: “Stop thinking, and end your problems. What difference between yes and no? What difference between success and failure? Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!”

Think about that.

Photography Training

Strasburg Rail Road HDR
Strasburg Rail Road HDR

You can learn a lot photographing trains on a cloudy day by experimenting with composition, exposure and aperture. This morning I went down to the Strasburg Rail Road to see if I could learn anything new, but I found the same things that were true the last time I was there were true today.

Just like Freud’s cigar, sometimes a train is just a train, but adding a person to the photo can make it much more interesting.

Composition is probably the most important thing besides the subject, and you can only do so much with a boring gray sky.

Taking a hundred or more shots is easy to do, even though I know that I only need one good one, or at least one decent one.

Finally, post processing RAW files with Lightroom, Photoshop and HDR software will not make a bad photo great, and the time comes when a decision has to be made when to call it done and read the Sunday newspapers.

As Ansel Adams one said: “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” I stood behind another photographer and watched the smoke and mirror show from a distance, and it was good enough to make the trip worthwhile. Next time I’ll shoot the conductor (not literally).

Pre-Columbian Artifacts

Pre-Columbian Artifacts
Pre Columbian Artifacts

Just to be clear, Pre-Columbian art refers to art from the Caribbean, North, Central, and South Americas, think statues and vessels. The artifacts I photographed are not thousands of years old, but they are artifacts and they are from Columbia, Pennsylvania.

What makes them Pre-Columbian is that they are not originally from Columbia. They come from attics, garages, and basements everywhere, then are brought into a consignment shop like this one.

There they sit until someone sees something they can’t live without, buys it, and sometime later it goes back into an attic, garage or basement. It’s the cycle of antique life and it’s a huge business in many parts of P.A.

These strangely beautiful mannequins are a steal at $140 each. The possible uses are endless from a passenger for the HOV lane to a model for portrait photography practice.

There was a movie in the late 80’s where a sexy mannequin comes to life, though that rarely happens these days. They do sell some online with much more lifelike features, but that’s a whole different shade of gray.

The Charnel Grounds of Columbia

Motorcycle Charnel Grounds
Motorcycle Charnel Grounds

Sometimes you find yourself in a strange place, and then try to figure out if there’s a deeper meaning to be found in the experience. So it was when I found myself in the motorcycle charnel grounds on the second floor of The Cycle Den in Columbia.

It was a depressing place, as I imagine the charnel grounds in Tibet are with the giant vultures, but depressing in a different way. I looked at those old machines and saw the people that once owned and loved them.

These now decaying bikes represented freedom, adventure and escape. I remembered the quote by Hafiz: “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.”

It is said that the Buddha encouraged his students to meditate in the charnel grounds as a way of releasing the ultimate attachment: the attachment to one’s body and to this life itself. So despite the overwhelming sadness, I stayed to reflect on the impermanence of all things, and how the pursuit of pleasure is a paradox.

Dan Aykroyd once said: “You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle.” This may or may not be true, but having sold mine last fall I am now back in therapy.

I drive there in my SUV with the radio on and the feeling of safety that comes with four wheels and airbags. It’s as close to feeling alive as playing virtual golf, with a virtual caddie and drinking a virtual martini.

Contentment and Catnaps

Zen cat
Zen cat

The dictionary defines contentment as the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

Socrates said: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” Yes, but I want more…

I was in a greenhouse yesterday looking at seeds and starter plants, it was really a beautiful place to be, and for almost three minutes I was content. A cat calmly strolled in and completely ignored me, or so I thought.

I remember Eckhart Tolle saying something about cats as Zen masters, so I asked this cat to teach me about contentment. Again he ignored me, but I watched him.

He walked carefully between the rows of flowers and herbs, and I wondered if he was telling me to take time to smell the flowers. Then he began eating them, and I wasn’t sure if this was a sign to eat healthier or to do whatever makes you happy.

After he finished destroying a basil plant he hopped off the table and headed to his favorite place, which was literally the best seat in the house. He lay down on some warm boards in front of a sunny window, and looked at me as if to say: take a picture it’ll last longer, and then went to sleep.

If he was trying to tell me something I missed it, and on the way home I thought about new motorcycles, mansions and yachts, just a few of the things I feel I need to be content.

But I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted, I had enough money for lunch, and I had a picture of a Zen cat.

Charles M. Schulz said: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”

Maybe that was his message; maybe I simply needed a catnap. So I went home and took a nap in my warm bed in front of a sunny window, and it was good. Now all I need is to move into this greenhouse and start eating plants.

There’s a great shade tree to park my bike under, my yacht will be moored of course, and as Elmer J. Fudd taught us, nobody really needs a mansion.

Amethyst Dreams

Amethyst Dream
Amethyst Dream

Dream interpretation is like calling a psychic hotline; you believe what you want to believe. I found two versions about the meaning of amethyst dreams and they’re both exactly the same but different.

The first said that simply seeing an amethyst in your dream means that you need to be very honest in your dealings if you want to maximize your financial success.

The second said that to see an amethyst in your dream indicates that you are pleased with the aspects of your life pertaining to finances and your personal happiness. You don’t require many material possessions to be satisfied.

So, do I need to maximize my finances to buy a new camera, or realize that happiness is not having what I want but wanting what I have? This is a big question and can mean saving at least a thousand dollars.

I found this Amethyst Dream in a greenhouse and took a photo with the camera I have. After a few minor adjustments, I am now pleased with the aspects of my life pertaining to finances and my personal happiness.

But there’s a 35mm f/1.8 lens out there with my name on it, maybe playing the lottery wasn’t such a bad idea after all…