Monday, January 26, 2009

Was awakened this morning, in the first hour of the new year, by a mosquito. I was irritated, and later consulted my feng shui calendar, which indicated that today was mostly auspicous or neutral, but that the hour from 1 to 3 a.m. was very bad. Indeed! I tossed and turned and sprayed DEET and tried breathing exercises. I may have slept, but can't be sure. I was partly disturbed because I started reading that damned "Eat, Pray, Love" book again. At the ashram, she is having all kinds of issues, which might have been more interesting if she'd used the third person in her narrative. More relevant to the present moment though, one evening she meditates to ignore the mosquitoes that are sipping her troubled blood. My mosquito was quite harmless I'm sure, but would you trust mosquitoes in India? Do they have malaria in India? Why am I reading this book? She says all the bites faded quickly. She was lucky: a couple weeks ago when our night visitors were out in large force, my complexion acquired a frightening adolescent appearance for a few days. While she has many interesting observations about meditation and spiritual quest (that's why I'm still reading it!), there are way too many problems of her own. I think I would have avoided her if she were on one of my own recent retreats --speaking of which, while trying to ignore my pathetic buzzing Year of the Ox harbinger by thinking about what to do in the coming year, I made a decision to go back to Wudang in September. Now the year begins to map itself out. I have a vision, a plan, a framework for the next cycle.

What's your plan?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The last long weekend of the season was appreciated, thanks to the MLK holiday, and I used it well enough, I guess. Got off to a strange start with a toe injury when I got up in the dark to check on a tree that had blown apart in one of our recent high-wind events. The tree was fractured, but my toe was only sprained. Needed a quick visit to the doctor confirm that; fortunately Dr. Liu was much more sympathetic than House M.D. would have been: "You sprained your toe! Stupid! Be careful next time!" Still the calm and compassionate Dr. Liu did say that had it been broken there was nothing to be done anyway, except suffer and heal. Which I'm doing. After I returned from the doctor, I arrived at work only to be sent home because it was...windy. Hawaii weather alerts are not like the rest of the world's. Triumph the insult dog had it right. Poor Hawaii.

Still, it was VERY windy (50-60 mph gusts) and the tree suffered in the weather.This is a BIG tree, maybe 12 stories tall. (This view is from the 10th floor.) It was entertaining to watch the professional tree guy disassemble it later. If you look closely, you will see him in the very center, dangling a 10-foot log he's just chain-sawed off. There are two more albizias, at the right, lovely to look at but vulnerable and dangerous, that really need to be removed from the parking area to avoid lawsuits and injury or death; it will cost something like $12,000 apiece. I love these trees and hope we can preserve as much of them as possible; they provide shade, noise muffling, and a pleasing aspect, especially when they are in bloom.

Speaking of trees, we dismantled the Christmas sacrifice and stored the decorations in the remote locker for another year. Inspired by the professionals, the Wizard devised a clever method to get the tree down to the dumpster area and avoid a lot of fallen needles to sweep up. Just lop off all the branches. We wrapped up all the "trimmings" in a sheet for disposal.

Had a couple of great dinners with an at-sea sailor, a friend from Maui on Oahu to complete some Coast Guard certifications to get his license upgraded. His tour-boat gig has failed in the bad tourist economy so he needs to do something on a larger scale, like oil rig tending in the Gulf of Mexico. Our dining-out included the most costly restaurant meal (>$250) I have ever shared among three people. Maybe the economy isn't that bad. Fortunately, my entree, a chunk of ahi as big as my cat's head, (never eat anything as big as anyone's head) with doggie bag provided me three complete meals so nothing was wasted. But I was forced at claw-point to share a bit with the Yellow Emperor.

The Yellow Emperor

All this exuberant dining led to a couple of major middle-of-the-night heartburn attacks, particularly after the rich northern Italian food at Cafe Sistina, where the decor features reproductions (by the chef/owner) of the Sistine Chapel's frescoes. The food and service there are also great, and not reproductions. But after the GERD episodes, I think the season is telling me it's time to cut back. I'm not sure which is yang and yin, but anything spicy rising in the esophagus is not fun.

Since it's been "cold" (58 degrees F, Poor Hawaii, in the bedroom the morning of the tree-toe fiasco) it's also been some good days to cuddle up under a quilt and read when not eating food contra-indicated by GERD or destroying trees. I finished one book, read another, and started a third. I completed "Red Dust," so-called Chinese version of "On the Road." Something may have been lost in translation, it was good, a picaresque travelogue, but it wasn't Kerouac (whose "Dharma Bums," another Christmas present, is rising to the top of my to-read pile, along with a lot of David Foster Wallace). I switched continents, from Asia to Africa, to read "The Miracle at Speedy Motors," the ninth Botswana book, which was as usual, a bon bon with vitamins, maybe an odd book to read on MLK day and in anticipation of the Inauguration. After that fast feel-good read, I decided to revisit "Eat, Pray, Love." I managed to get through Italy with this depressed, lonely mid-thirties divorcee but I'm not sure I can continue with her to the ashram. I may simply be jealous that she got an advance to write this whiny soul-searching travelogue, or I may just not be able to relate to her inablity to have a committed relationship. I'm not sure I want to find out if she can heal herself. I'm not sure I care. (Was this another Oprah book?)

Tonight I start a 14-week class in traditional Chinese Brush Painting to kick off Chinese New Year. As with the Inauguration today, it signals a new kind of energy and effort. It's yang rising, that first bit of momentum out of the fullest yin; a surge of hope, movement away from fear, and time to change the subtitle of this blog to recognize the Year of the Ox.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Woke this morning at 4 with the huge yang moon shining in my window, and I was a little cold. My bedroom thermometer showed 64 F, a bit on on the chilly side for Hawaii. Of course it never occurs to me to turn off the fan or shut the windows, I like the fresh air too much. The Wizard is not here to keep me warm, having been called to monkishly sit in vigil for a beloved colleague who will be cremated later today, it would seem quite auspiciously. The astronomers say this is the first and biggest moon of the new year (Gregorian 2009) or by the lunar calendar, it's the last and biggest of the Year of the Earth Rat. Regrettably, I missed gazing at the last big 2008 one, owing to dense and persistent cloud cover from the rainy and stormy weather that was our Christmas. I was sorry I'd missed it, but counting the cycles differently, I haven't missed anything. That's the nice thing about two calendars, always a second chance at everything. (Maybe that's why I have two blogs.)

I'd also awakened early yesterday out of necessity for a dreary business conference call to the east coast; I participated with coffee on my lanai while watching the moon set over the mountains. Next time, THEY get to phone in in the middle of the night! Why is it, on a weekday it is painful to get up so early, but now on Saturday I am up all abuzz and rarin' to go.

This morning as I wandered about the house in the moonlight waiting for my coffee water to boil, I was thinking about the funeral and noticing the cobwebs and dust I really must clear in the next two weeks to make way for the coming of the Ox. The old Gordon Lightfoot song, "Cobwebs and Dust" came to my mind, a tune I might like to make people listen to at my own funeral; it's a sentimental country waltz about shaking off the accumulated dust and saying goodbye to your island, floating through the sky, sorry to leave you , but leave you I must. (Here's the best lyrics link I can find ; the song is from the album "If you Could Read My Mind.") So I listened to it on my iPOD while gazing at the moon, my Taoist contribution to the vigil.

Last evening, not yet thinking about the moon, I was in the Barnes and Noble at Ala Moana Shopping Center, poking around in their small but respectable collection of Taoist books. I waited until a man with a little boy finished going through the shelf; they left empty-handed. Then I squatted on the floor (it was the bottom shelf) looking through Eva Wong and Thomas Cleary and Alan Watts titles. I made a selection and the man reappeared with a clerk. "Looking for something Taoist?" I asked. "Yes," he said, as the clerk handed him the title he was looking for. We started to talk; I told him I had been to Wudang, and he asked which book was my favorite (well, the Tao Te Ching) and if there was a community of practitioners here. (If there is one, I haven't found it; Taoists tend to be low-profile loners, a bit isolated.) "Which book would you recommend for me," he asked, so of course I picked out Deng Ming-Dao's 365 Tao, neglecting to tell him it would be a great tool to start the new year, either one of them. Also neglected to suggest the "Empty Vessel" journal; there was a pile of back issues in the magazine section. And finally, neglected to find out who the heck he was beyond a 4th-grade teacher in Waikiki. On the way home, I lamented my failure to provide more guidance and conversation, then concluded he will find his own way; he already seems to be on a path. I have faith the moon will guide him, even as it soon starts to wane as the cycle continues. He said he hears the Year of the Ox will be one of change: well, isn't it always? Friends will arrive, friends will disappear; big old lobsters will be released and small ones will be eaten, the Dow will go up and down, wars will start and stop, politicians will do what they do, sports teams will win and lose, folks will be born and folks will die, the moon will wax and wane, the sun will keep rising and setting (I have this confidence). And the cobwebs and dust will pile up and be swept away (or maybe not, at my house). Change, but no real progress, except maybe personally. Then, at some point we get to bid it all goodbye, reluctantly, while someone sits in prayer by our body or thinks of us while listening to music in the light of the moon as we start our calculations by yet another calendar, as if there are calendars in eternity (which I'm pretty sure there aren't).

The gigantic glowing pearl is still well above the western horizon, there is a rooster crowing, and Fifi and the Yellow Emperor are busy bringing me their faux mice, the results of their futile domestic crepuscular hunting. That long thin dawn is comin' on again. (Another great Lightfoot tune.) Life goes on. All you can do is watch it go by.