I Have Learned

“I have found that to be here and not anywhere else is the key to total concentration. By living in the present, I am in full contact with myself and my environment; my energy is not dissipated and is always available. In the present there are no regrets, as there must be when thinking of the past, and worrying about the future only dilutes our awareness of the present. I have learned to focus all of my concentration on each individual moment, whether it’s a voice on the other end of a phone line, a face looking at me from across a desk, that single eye of a camera, or that rose garden. There is only now, only this moment. There is nothing else. Nothing.”  ~Chuck Norris, from The Secret Power Within © 1996

I had mentioned to Mona that I liked Chuck Connors– The Rifleman, Branded— and she got her Chucks confused and got me a couple of books by Chuck Norris, the martial artist.

It was a happy accident.  Because of it, I’ve read his autobiography, Against All Odds, and the book I excerpted above, and enjoyed them both.

Even though we are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, I think Chuck and I would get along fine if we ever meet.

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Kindly Treated

“In other words, a devotee should not ignore any living entity. The devotee must know that in every living entity, however insignificant he may be, even in an ant, God is present, and therefore every living entity should be kindly treated and should not be subjected to any violence.”  ~A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda (source)

The Perfect High

The Perfect High (Or The Quest of Gimmesome Roy)
by Shel Silverstein

There once was a boy named Gimmesome Roy. He was nothing like me or you.
‘Cause laying back and getting high was all he cared to do.
As a kid, he sat in the cellar, sniffing airplane glue.
And then he smoked bananas — which was then the thing to do.
He tried aspirin in Coca-Cola, breathed helium on the sly,
And his life was just one endless search to find that perfect high.
But grass just made him want to lay back and eat chocolate-chip pizza all night,
And the great things he wrote while he was stoned looked like shit in the morning light.
And speed just made him rap all day, reds just laid him back,
And Cocaine Rose was sweet to his nose, but the price nearly broke his back.
He tried PCP and THC, but they didn’t quite do the trick,
And poppers nearly blew his heart and mushrooms made him sick.
Acid made him see the light, but he couldn’t remember it long.
And hashish was just a little too weak, and smack was a lot too strong,
And Quaaludes made him stumble, and booze just made him cry,
Till he heard of a cat named Baba Fats who knew of the perfect high.

Now, Baba Fats was a hermit cat who lived up in Nepal,
High on a craggy mountaintop, up a sheer and icy wall.
“But hell,” says Roy, “I’m a healthy boy, and I’ll crawl or climb or fly,
But I’ll find that guru who’ll give me the clue as to what’s the perfect high.”
So out and off goes Gimmesome Roy to the land that knows no time,
Up a trail no man could conquer to a cliff no man could climb.
For fourteen years he tries that cliff, then back down again he slides
Then sits — and cries — and climbs again, pursuing the perfect high.
He’s grinding his teeth, he’s coughing blood, he’s aching and shaking and weak,
As starving and sore and bleeding and tore, he reaches the mountain peak.
And his eyes blink red like a snow-blind wolf, and he snarls the snarl of a rat,
As there in perfect repose and wearing no clothes — sits the godlike Baba Fats.

“What’s happening, Fats?” says Roy with joy, “I’ve come to state my biz.
I hear you’re hip to the perfect trip. Please tell me what it is.
For you can see,” says Roy to he, “that I’m about to die,
So for my last ride, Fats, how can I achieve the perfect high?”
“Well, dog my cats!” says Baba Fats. “here’s one more burnt-out soul,
Who’s looking for some alchemist to turn his trip to gold.
But you won’t find it in no dealer’s stash, or on no druggist’s shelf.
Son, if you would seek the perfect high — find it in yourself.”

“Why, you jive motherfucker!” screamed Gimmesome Roy, “I’ve climbed through rain and sleet,
I’ve lost three fingers off my hands and four toes off my feet!
I’ve braved the lair of the polar bear and tasted the maggot’s kiss.
Now, you tell me the high is in myself. What kind of shit is this?
My ears ‘fore they froze off,” says Roy, “had heard all kind of crap,
But I didn’t climb for fourteen years to listen to that sophomore rap.
And I didn’t crawl up here to hear that the high is on the natch,
So you tell me where the real stuff is or I’ll kill your guru ass!”

“Ok, OK,” says Baba Fats, “you’re forcing it out of me.
There is a land beyond the sun that’s known as Zaboli.
A wretched land of stone and sand where snakes and buzzards scream,
And in this devil’s garden blooms the mystic Tzu-Tzu tree.
And every ten years it blooms one flower as white as the Key West sky,
And he who eats of the Tzu-Tzu flower will know the perfect high.
For the rush comes on like a tidal wave and it hits like the blazing sun.
And the high, it lasts a lifetime and the down don’t ever come.
But the Zaboli land is ruled by a giant who stands twelve cubits high.
With eyes of red in his hundred heads, he waits for the passers-by.
And you must slay the red-eyed giant, and swim the River of Slime,
Where the mucous beasts, they wait to feast on those who journey by.
And if you survive the giant and the beasts and swim that slimy sea,
There’s a blood-drinking witch who sharpens her teeth as she guards that Tzu-Tzu tree.”
“To hell with your witches and giants,” laughs Roy. “To hell with the beasts of the sea.
As long as the Tzu-Tzu flower blooms, some hope still blooms for me.”
And with tears of joy in his snow-blind eye, Roy hands the guru a five,
Then back down the icy mountain he crawls, pursuing that perfect high.

“Well, that is that,” says Baba Fats, sitting back down on his stone,
Facing another thousand years of talking to God alone.
“It seems, Lord”, says Fats, “it’s always the same: old men or bright-eyed youth,
It’s always easier to sell them some shit than it is to give them the truth.”

Pierced

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” ~1 Timothy 6:10

I don’t think this means money in the literal sense of coins and paper, I think it’s meant to mean self-centeredness and selfishness in general. When you look at the actions considered “sinful,” you always find selfishness at the center. Adultery, stealing, dishonesty, false idols; all of those things happen when a person puts their own pleasure above all else.

And the seldom-quoted second half is, to me, the more significant part: “pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” While those things might bring a temporary distraction, they don’t offer lasting happiness.  Karma might hit them dramatically with a divorce or a prison sentence, it might lock  them into a cycle or repeated peaks and valleys from which they cannot escape, or it might just be the crushing realization, late at night, that their lives are hollow and unbalanced.

I don’t know of any selfish people who are happy. There certainly aren’t any who are kind. And ultimately, as they spend their lives forever chasing their next high, they become completely insignificant.

There are always consequences.

Was Beyond Me

Excerpted from Helen Hayes’ autobiography On Reflection, © 1968:

Of course, I didn’t know what it all meant anyway, and the only shockers to me were Graddy’s (her grandmother’s) scarey tales of ghosts and supernatural goings-on. I always shivered and thrilled to the one about the beautiful bride who expired of a mysterious seizure in the arms of her groom just as the priest was declaring them man and wife. Shrouded in her own wedding gown, fairly floating in her many veils, the virgin was transported to her grave. Followed by a long procession of weeping mourners, she lay in a hearse pulled by fine black horses, each with three white plumes. As the carriage passed through the cemetery gate, it rolled over a sharp rock and the jolt was so great that up shot the lid of the coffin. The bride’s eyes and hands starter to flutter; and then sitting up in bewilderment, her pale lips formed those deathless words, “Where am I?” The horrified cortège dispersed in a panic– all except the bridegroom, of course, who now lifted her tenderly in his arms, brought the color back to her cheeks with a kiss, and carried her off to their marriage bed.

This story and my grandmother’s insistence that it wasn’t really unusual– “People, Helen, are being buried alive all the time!”– made such an impression on me that when she herself lay in her coffin a few years later and at the age of ten I looked upon a dead person for the first time, I of course wailed, “Sit up, Graddy! Please sit up now!

Graddy’s friends sat clutching their wrists, their necks pulled in like great turtles, their mouths twisted in scandalized disbelief.

“Well, I never.”

“What a little actress!”

“Essie, you shouldn’t allow her to show off like that.”

They were the first of a legion of critics who have tried to remove me from the stage.

I really was sure that, like the pop-up bride, she would rise and spin a yarn about this, her latest adventure. The finality of death was beyond me. I just couldn’t believe that my Graddy was gone.

When I was four, my grandfather died.  I wasn’t overly concerned, because I had completely misunderstood the stories they taught us in Sunday School and I had no doubt that he’d be coming back to life any time now.  All you had to do was believe, and it would all be okay.

A few months later my grandmother died,  and the truth crushed down on me like a boulder:  this was forever.  Nobody comes back.

I was devastated.

And I think that exact moment was when I quit believing in the things the grown-ups told me were true.

Rest

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”  ~Isaiah 30:15

I think churches put too much emphasis on the repentance part, not enough on rest, quietness, and trust.