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.

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

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.

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…

Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Someday

I'll quit tomorrow
I’ll quit tomorrow

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.

But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” Lauren Oliver-Before I Fall

All Mama’s Children

Haines Shoe House
Haines Shoe House

The rain had just stopped as dawn broke over the Haines Shoe House in York, Pennsylvania yesterday, and I remembered a song I heard years ago working on a much larger house in Southampton.

The lead carpenter was a former lawyer who found that chopping wood was more rewarding then Jurisprudence, and he listened to county music all day long.

The song was All Mama’s Children by Carl Perkins and it went like this:

“There was an old woman that lived in a shoe, had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. They were doin all right, til she took em to town, the kids started pickin em up and putting em down.

Now all your children wanna rock, mama, all your children want to roll. They wanna roll, wanna rock, wanna bop til they pop. All your children want to rock.”

The Haines Shoe House is now open for guided tours and they serve gourmet hand-dipped ice cream and Mellie’s Makery treats (it’s not just a bakery it’s a makery). Rocking and bopping are encouraged but only outside.

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.

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.

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.