The Stories We Tell

What's your story?
What’s your story?

Sometimes people want to know your story, it could be a partner, a friend or an employer. Growing up in New York, I learned at an early age that the best answer to this is usually: whatareya writing a book?

But sometimes that may not be in your best interest. As anyone who goes into therapy discovers, questions are asked about your story not to find out who you are, but to find out who you think you are. This is a good time to be as honest as possible since you’re paying them, but spilling your guts to a complete stranger is not easy.

The thing is, our stories are fragments of memory and imagination, they are only as real as the ones in the book on our nightstand, and still we sometimes hesitate to tell them. Depending on who’s asking, we may skip over some parts and even leave whole chapters out completely.

In Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes a rambling memoir of a bitter, isolated man, which is depressing and at times funny, sublime and yet ridiculous. He writes:

“Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret.

But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away. That is, one can even say that the more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind.”

OK, that is a bit depressing, how about this one by Ken Kesey: “To hell with facts! We need stories!” Let’s go with that.

Abandoned Amusements

Rocky Springs Park
Rocky Springs Park

Rocky Springs was an amusement park in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that was in operation from 1890 to 1966. The park featured four roller coasters, three made of wood and one of steel.

Their first coaster was a Figure 8, which allowed for more turns and offered riders an alternative experience. It began its run by heading through a wooden tunnel, just high enough to accommodate the passengers. There were newspaper reports of accidents from people standing and hitting their heads, but most considered that part of the fun.

Today there is a Rocky Springs Entertainment Center (bowling alley) and a Rocky Springs Bed and Breakfast. On the 17 acre B&B property, remnants include the carousel building, a snack stand, and this set of cars from the Rocky Springs 1928 Wildcat roller coaster.

Five miles away is a modern amusement park called Dutch Wonderland, with 44 acres of roller coasters, water slides, kid’s shows and campgrounds. Popular with tourists and summer locals, Dutch Wonderland is probably much safer then the old Rocky Springs Park, but I doubt it’s the same alternative experience.

The Poppy Conundrum

Iceland Poppies
Iceland Poppies

I stopped in a local nursery today to check out the flowers and take a few photos. It’s a great way to spend a cold morning and they had a huge variety of flora. Cherry trees, Orchids, Tulips, and even Venus Fly Traps as well as the common stuff I see in the park. But the most interesting to me were these Iceland Poppies (Papaver nudicaule).

Then a thought hit me, the kind of thing that would have occurred to me years ago, don’t all poppies produce opium? Not that I have any need for it, but my scientific curiosity got the better of me. From what I’ve read they do not.

One article said that only one species of poppy contains opium, the breadseed or opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Another said that although the opium poppy has the highest concentration of narcotics, all poppies in the Papaver genus do contain some amount of narcotic. Alrighty then.

Walter Savage Landor, an English writer and poet wrote: “Truth, like the juice of the poppy, in small quantities, calms men; in larger, heats and irritates them, and is attended by fatal consequences in excess.”

So I guess now I’m back to the truth conundrum. Maybe I should stop seeking the truth and only cease to cherish opinions, but that’s easier said than done.

The Illusion of Security

The Illusion of Security
The Illusion of Security

Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Theravada Buddhist monk wrote an article called The Search for Security on a website called Access to Insight. This is from the first paragraph:

“We only feel at ease when we are sealed off from manifest danger, comfortably at home with ourselves and with our world, snugly tucked into familiar territory where everything seems friendly and dependable.”

Probably the best perspective on this, as well as one of the most intelligent things anyone has ever said is by Helen Keller:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

You cannot win, if you do not play.

The End of the Ice Age

Strasburg Rail Road
Strasburg Rail Road

I was at the Strasburg Rail Road yesterday watching them plowing the line all the way to Paradise (the town) with something called a wedge. It was a beautiful day and I could see that spring was right around the corner, as sure as I was standing there shooting icicles.

I was as sure as eggs in April, as sure as the steeple bears the bell, as sure as an obligation sealed in butter. But the Vernal Equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator, it does not mean that the fairies come out to dance.

I will be up at 6:28 am on Monday though, camera in hand, just to make sure.

Be a Lamp unto Yourself

See the light
See the light

Be a lamp unto yourself were the last words and final teaching that the Buddha gave to his monks. This often-repeated saying of the Buddha is well known but not well understood, and rarely is it put into actual practice.

This quote is by Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho:

“Be a light unto yourself. Do not follow others, do not imitate, because imitation, following, creates stupidity. You are born with a tremendous possibility of intelligence. You are born with a light within you. Listen to the still, small voice within, and that will guide you.

Nobody else can guide you, nobody else can become a model for your life, because you are unique. Nobody has there been ever who was exactly like you, and nobody is ever going to be there again who will be exactly like you. This is your glory, your grandeur – that you are utterly irreplaceable, that you are just yourself and nobody else.”

The Razor’s Edge

Razorblade Suitcase
Razorblade Suitcase

The Razor’s Edge is a book by W. Somerset Maugham and its inscription reads, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”

Charlotte Joko Beck, author of Everyday Zen wrote: “When we walk the razor’s edge we’re not important; we’re no-self, embedded in life. This we fear-even though life as no-self is pure joy. Our fear drives us to stay over here in our lonely self-righteousness. The paradox: only in walking the razor’s edge, in experiencing the fear directly, can we know what it is to have no fear.”

“Still, it is necessary to acknowledge that most of the time we want nothing to do with that edge; we want to stay separate. We want the sterile satisfaction of wallowing in “I am right.” That’s a poor satisfaction, of course, but still we will usually settle for a diminished life rather than experience life as it is when that seems painful and distasteful.”

Put another way by Eckhart Tolle: “The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.”

So you gotta ask yourself one question, how soon is now?

Right Concentration on the Path

The Path
The Path

Sometimes the path is a soft cushion of grass on a warm sunny day, with birds landing on your shoulder and baby deer leading the way. And sometimes the path is a slippery downhill slope, covered with ice and snow on a cold winter morning. In both situations it’s important to concentrate.

Eve Adamson and/or Gary R. McClain, authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living said: “Concentration means working on achieving a one-pointed mind. If you are doing something, concentrate wholly on what you are doing.”

Now I’ve known many idiots but few were complete idiots, and fewer still were complete idiots interested in Zen living. So maybe a more practical quote might be easier to understand.

Serena Williams once said: “If you can keep playing tennis when somebody is shooting a gun down the street, that’s concentration.” I wonder if she’s the one that said you only live once, but you get to serve twice.