Tag Archive | Words


My friends seek me out for advice, including career advice. I let them know the irony of going to someone unemployed for career advice. “Are you sure you want me to critique your resume?” I ask.

How did my words become so valuable? I’m sure my education has something to do with it, but there are lots of educated people whose advice they do not seek. I believe my words have value due to my education and an even more important factor: I dispense them sparingly.

How do you make something valuable? Ensure its rarity. DeBeers gets it. They go to great lengths to maintain the illusion of diamond scarcity. Diamonds are not rare and they know it. Humans can even manufacture diamonds that the world’s best gemologists cannot distinguish from the natural version.

I have always had a fascination with monasticism (Christian, Buddhist, or otherwise) and the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Lay people sought them out. The same with Roshis. Imagine knowing that the only way you could see so-and-so would be to hang around a particular cactus for a week or two. Or if you saw your guru or roshi every three years for two minutes. You would be examining every nuance of their words and gestures for meaning.

People seek balance and sanity. I know I do. That’s part of why I don’t go to church anymore. GAP (Gays, Abortion, Porn/Politics) sermons are a dime a dozen. Hearing about the same topics all the time makes paying attention extremely difficult. How do you not tune out? I’ve seen congregations obsessed with these issues, which is an indication of an extreme lack of balance. When I would see this, I would know instantly that I had no desire to emulate their actions/attitudes.

I have been learning about Aikido lately. I cannot take classes or do anything that takes me away from Barry for too long, so I am starting real small. I have doing the “Horse Stance” for a few minutes at a time. It’s too soon to tell, but I noticed last evening that I did not have restless leg syndrome. Are the two related? I don’t know, but it would make sense. Using my leg muscles more just might eliminate the need for my legs to release energy through twitching. It’s all about balance: increasing those things I don’t have enough of (exercise) and eliminating things I have too much of.

As I get older, balance becomes more mandatory. Wherever I have been out of balance in the past now kicks my butt. My lifestyle choices now show in my life. Excesses now demand abstinence and the forsaken parts of myself now demand my attention. I couldn’t get people to listen to me when I was younger. Now that I don’t talk as much, people are hunting me down for advice. Balance rules.

Words that Heal

“‘Words, words, words; the way is beyond language,’ writes Sengcan, yet he is using language to illuminate words. Zen Buddhism vehemently undermines and deconstructs the reality of language and thought by using language and thought. …The ultimate truth cannot be grasped through thinking. The Zen tradition in particular celebrates words through its dedication to poetry and haiku as ways to manifest this truth. ….Zen teaches that “not speaking a single word” is the only way to access reality.…If someone wants to control us for their own purposes, the only thing they really need to do is to use words in a skillful way, and we’re hooked. Our blind attachment to those words becomes a ring in our nose. The degree to which we are unaware of our attachment to words, concepts and thoughts is the degree to which we can be controlled. When we bring awareness to the nature of words and thoughts, we free ourselves within those words and thoughts.” Words That Heal, Senior’s Talk by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Osho, Featured in Mountain Record 27.2, Winter 2008

This is the best explanation of words, language, and Zen that I have found. It encompasses both the irony of using words to “eff” the ineffable and our ability to be manipulated due to our attachments to words, concepts, and thoughts.

In case no one could tell, I have serious fifth chakra issues. Language, words, communication, deception, and the like have all taken up much of my mind space. Issues revolving around them have occupied much of my life.

Leaving church is my impetus for seeking my own voice and being true to whatever it is that I am or am not. I am freeing myself from my own demons, especially the ones that I have projected upon others to live out. I am taking off the blinders of attachment to words, concepts, and thought.

I am reclaiming my brain. I am making brain space for experiences and intuition where at one time only obsessive thinking ruled.


Words, Boundaries, and Illusions

I am disillusioned with language in general.  My main issue is with descriptions and distinctions are no more than linguistic conveniences. Any international border, for example, is linguistically meaningless. “This grain of sand belongs to Idaho and this other grain belongs to British Columbia.” Doesn’t that even sound stupid? The distinction is artificial at best and totally illusory at worst.

 Words are necessary. How else could you say, “I’m thirsty. Please get me a cup of water,”? That’s how communication occurs and needs get met. That’s what words are for. 

The reality, however, is more interconnected than that. The distinction between groups of people is, like the grains of sand, artificial or perhaps even illusory. Everyone is related, if you go far enough back. Scary but true.

 The problems occur when we take what we say as real. Words are concepts. Dennis Genpo Merzel says:

“Without concepts we find ourselves unbounded, undefined; and our greatest fear is to live without boundaries, without definitions. Of course, when we have no boundaries, we are vulnerable. Everyone, everything can come in….First we define ourselves: me versus you, me against not-me….One day we turn around and we realize what we have done: we have imprisoned ourselves. We can keep the world out, now we are stuck inside.” (The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen, p. 118)

 This is the misery of it all: instead of using words to communicate with and free each other, we use it to deceive ourselves and others into living in a self-imposed prison. We need to use language to free each other, not to impose power and control. Language is a means to connect. When it is used to dis-connect us, it serves no useful purpose and can be abandoned with no negative consequences.


Useless Words

“Cut off all useless thoughts and words and there’s nowhere you cannot go.” Affirming Faith in Mind , by Zen Master Kanchi Sosan http://ordinarymind.pbworks.com/f/GV+Chant+book+9-9-05.pdf

Isn’t this what we all want, to be okay anywhere?

What thoughts are useless? Shame-based (“I am no good”), manipulative (“If I can get him to do this thing, all will be well”), pointlessly judgmental (“I hate her hair like that”), and…you get the idea.

In some situations, almost any thought is useless. The older I get, the more I realize that the most important thing to do in almost any situation is to listen deeply. Thinking about what others might think of me accomplishes nothing.

Helpful thoughts include trying to notice as many things as possible (temperature, lighting, body language of self and others, words being spoken, subjects being addressed or unaddressed) and figuring out how to be helpful in a given situation.

The ability to cut off one’s thoughts is key. It is a type and level of self-control I have yet to see demonstrated in the Christian community. Such quotes as the one above are found in Buddhist literature. You become like what you fill your mind with.

Don’t Think, See

Venerable Henepola Gunaratana: Chapter 4: Attitude from Dharmaweb

“Don’t ponder: You don’t need to figure everything out. Discursive thinking won’t free you from the trap. In mediation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage. All that is necessary is a clear, non-conceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to dissolve them. Concepts and reasoning just get in the way. Don’t think. See.”

Thinking things to death does not help. Thinking is often a smokescreen, meant to obscure and prevent revelation. I first learned this lesson in Alanon. There is a pamphlet named “Alcoholism: A Merry-Go-Round Named Denial.” The lesson in it is simple: if you want to know what’s really going on, stop listening and start watching. The truth is in the actions, not in the dissemination of misinformation. Buddhists understand this. Christians don’t.

My pastor was talking in a worried tone about the young people he encountered when he ministered at an archdiocesan camp. The kids asked questions that showed they were developing a non-Orthodox worldview. His solution? Parents should talk to their kids more. I feel his solution misses the point.

Why does talking to their children miss the point in this case? It usually wouldn’t, but when kids are looking for spiritual answers at a camp, something is already missing at home. Kids are hearing what their parents are saying and watching what their parents are doing and there is a disconnect, or they wouldn’t be asking a total stranger for advice. They don’t know him from Adam. For all they know, he could be a pedophile. He’s not one, I can assure everyone. He is exceptionally careful in terms of appearances and he loves his wife greatly. But these kids don’t know any of this.

Do I think these kids are deliberately rejecting their parents as role models? No. The executive part of the brain does not fully mature until one’s early 20s. What these young people are doing is completely subconscious.

What does the future hold for these young people? They will likely keep asking questions of all sorts of people and looking at people’s behavior. The person they admire the most will have their undivided attention. Or, one day, they will get asked a question that they cannot answer and they will ask a question the other person answers to the questioner’s satisfaction. That will make a lasting impression. My point is that the person with the most spiritual influence in a young person’s life can be a classmate, a teammate, an online chat partner, or a complete stranger.

My priest was grateful that the congregation did not give him a problem with taking time off to go to camp. Of course no one protested; when he is absent, few people miss him. It would be far more complimentary if people protested his absence. The lack of protest should give him pause, but he has become the king of missing the point. His definition of respect is people telling him what he wants to hear in the way he wants to hear it. It’s all about words.

Here’s my point: because of his behavior in the past, I do not admire him or desire to be like him in any way, shape, or form. He has never made things right. Due to that, I do not seek guidance from him. I am careful in picking my role models (now that I’m in my mid-40s). The reason kids are looking to him for advice is precisely because they do not know him at all.

Talk does not help when behavior doesn’t match. The best theology is no substitute for integrity. Kids understand this instinctively. As Venerable Henepola Gunaratana said, “Don’t think. See.”

Doing, Talking, and Being

Perhaps it is because I am in my mid-forties that my perspective is changing. I’m sure some of it is from my spiritual journeying. What is it? It is my lessening interest in doing and talking and my greater emphasis on being.

Part of it is from my disillusionment from belonging to churches. It has to do with claims and burdens of proof. My expectations come from expecting people’s behavior to match their talk. Talk of morality needs to be backed up with moral actions. I have found some wonderful church leaders with high integrity; however, they seem to be the exceptions that prove the rule. More often, leaders only prove Shakespeare correct: “Methinks he doth protest too much.” For example, I can watch TV preachers who talk about the sin of homosexuality get outed by gigolos, anti-adultery preachers bawl on camera after getting caught at motels with hookers, and the like. Their verbal obsessions are only matched by their OCD behavior. The burden of proof is on the one making the claims, not the skeptics. Imagine a vacuum cleaner salesman knocking on your door. You let him in. Do you then go grab your vacuum and attempt to prove that your machine is superior to his wares? Hardly. You sit back and let him showcase his devices to see if his products work better than what sits in your closet. You may not even get out of your seat. After all, you have nothing to prove.

Religious leaders do not like having their behavior evaluated by their words. They emphasize “forgiveness,” which, to them, translates into a complete lack of accountability. Sadly, many congregations refuse to hold leaders accountable. These leaders come back, consequence-free, and then wonder why their cultural influence is non-existent. Shamelessness tends to reduce one’s influence.

And yet these leaders have great knowledge of the Bible. Their great experience and education have not transformed their behavior for the better in the slightest. They talk and talk and talk…ad nauseum. I realized many years ago that I did not want to pick any of them as role models. Words, alone, are powerless to transform anything.

If I didn’t want to be like them, I had to make sure I didn’t do what they did. But I still yearned for transformation. So, I read more books, imbibing even more words, wasting more time.

I continued my search for silence and transformation. Barry’s declining health and academic demands made simplicity non-negotiable. I needed something deeper than words. I talked to Christians and found pat answers to profound problems. I was dying inside and all they had were platitudes. Eventually, I stopped wasting my time and energy seeking wisdom and silence in the verbose world of Christendom. I still love the Orthodox vision of the sanctification of everything, but no longer look for transformation, simplicity, and wisdom in talk of any kind.   

In my quest for silence, simplicity, and transformation, I started looking very carefully at the people I listened to and hung around with. Do I want to be like person A, B, or C? My new standards for behavior became, “Will I feel good about this action years from now? Will this help me to be a person I respect? Will this enable me to be available to others?”

I’m not sure I’m Buddhist, but I am sure that they have mapped out consciousness better than anyone else I have discovered to date. I am sure that I want to help my fellow humans. I am sure that I like their dry sense of humor and their emphasis on personal experience, as opposed to blindly accepting their verbal presuppositions on faith. Buddhists seem infinitely nearer who I want to be than any Christians I have encountered, even my closest Orthodox friends.

In a world of endless advertising, emails, junk mail, spin meisters, and evangelists of every stripe, silence of any type feels deeply counter-cultural. Deleting emails feels scandalous. And yet sanity demands more “white space” in my life in all areas, regardless of how it feels.