Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Layer 49 Zen Cat, the Ox and the Chartered Accountant

Summer reappeared today, with blue skies and warm sunshine. It was there, casually hanging around, as I emerged from an hour’s meeting with a certain chartered accountant. By which time I was in dire need of therapy, or therapies. I hit the nearest café with tables out in the sun, and helped myself to a large dose of sunshine and a double shot of espresso. Mmmm. They felt good. I also needed a strong cigarette, of which I must say I heartily disapprove, dear reader, but needs must.

The fourth element in my self-medication was to take out the Zen player and fill my head with the masterful sounds of His Bobness. Ah yes,

People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed.

I have a friend who never, ever, heard music through headphones till she was well past 40, and this is someone who’d been in her twenties in the 1960s. How could the delights of the finest quality hi-fidelity stereo sound delivered direct to your ear drums have passed someone by, throughout the entire heyday of rock and soul? Music as it’s meant to be heard. It beats me.

Lot of water under the bridge,
Lot of other stuff too

Don't get up gentlemen,
I'm only passing through.

How well I remember her lying on a Spanish beach, inserting the earphones for the first time, and ‘turning on’. Freaking out, more like. I’m not sure what she was expecting, but when Ry Cooder’s ‘Get Rhythm’ sprang like a noisy tiger into her head she reacted like the proverbial startled rabbit, and jerked bolt upright, convinced that the entire beach was being blasted with Ry’s most rocking sounds. Oh, how we laughed!

Some things are too hot to touch,
The human mind can only stand so much,
You can't win, with a losing hand.

Of course she was hooked instantly, once she’d calmed down and realized that the music was inaudible to anyone but her. In the same way that I became hooked after donning headphones for the very first time, circa 1968 - at home, in my student flat. There were no mobile music players of any description in those pioneering days.

"There must be some way out of here,"
Said the joker to the thief,

"There's too much confusion,
I can't get no relief."

And yet way back then the masters of rock, Dylan and Hendrix, were already producing masterpieces that have proved unsurpassable over the intervening 40 years or so. I like to keep both their versions of All Along The Watchtower on the Zen, and play them virtually every day, for reasons of pure pleasure, as well as therapy.

I have to say that Jimi’s version has the benefit of some brilliant sound engineering, albeit using prehistoric analogue equipment, so that the various guitar and percussion layers swirl and swerve around the inside of your head when you hear them through headphones. Still amazing after all these years.

"No reason to get excited,"
The thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.

But you and I, we've been through that,
and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late."

The surrounding sounds of the city are annoying and harsh. They make a walk in the city far less agreeable than it could be, without the aural irritation. I much prefer silence, and if I can’t have silence then I’m damn sure I want a soundtrack of my own choosing, rather than the racket that someone else is making. I want the very best, the most beautiful and the most pleasing sounds ever created. With those sounds in your head, the city seems transformed. It rocks.


Meanwhile, back home, White Cat is on the roof, curled up in the sun. She may be stupid, but she’s not an idiot. I think we can learn a lot about living a Zen life from observing animals. Their unalloyed instinctual intelligence, undiluted and uncorrupted by alien thoughts and misconceptions, guides them through a life of just being what they ought to be.
Whilst we poor humans, confused and corrupted, baffled and bewildered, used and abused by other people’s weasel words and ideas, often don’t have a clue. We’re the dumb ones, thanks to our ‘intellect’.

We run around doing crazy and unnecessary things every day, when we ought to be lying in the sun, pleasurably absorbing its life-enhancing power.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said, 'Explanations come to an end somewhere', and "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life!", which I discovered through the music of minimalist and philosopher Steve Reich. And it also takes only one or two idiotic and self-defeating thoughts, either deliberately implanted or self-absorbed, to guide vulnerable lives towards disaster. Like ‘an eye for an eye’, for instance. Like ‘don’t let anyone give you no disrespect’. Teenagers are dying on the streets thanks to those evil seeds having been absorbed and having taken root.

White Cat, on the other hand, goes with the flow, and does what comes naturally. These days she couldn’t chase another cat out of the garden even if she wanted to, she’s become so old and feeble. On the other hand she’s left alone by the other cats, who come and go, see that she’s no threat, and mark the territory as their own.

White Cat doesn’t care. She eats and she sleeps, either inside in the winter or outside in the summer. She goes with the flow. She’s slowing down and getting herself ready for the Big Sleep. Why should she worry about anything? Why should she care?

Why do any of us care? Lots of us care about things that we shouldn’t pay any attention to. We waste time on ridiculous things that should be of no consequence. And we fail to care about things that we maybe should.

The bodhisattva understands that in many ways “life is but a joke”, but cares very much that many of those around us are suffering, and need help in order to live well and to avoid needless suffering. Much suffering can be avoided if we can only become our true instinctual zen-like selves, and if we can only transform the ways in which we order our societies and re-order the ways in which we and other people live.

These days White Cat can’t even be bothered to take a dump in another garden, let alone cover it over with earth. She’s turned my garden into a turd minefield: you go out there at your peril. I go out there from time to clear her unlovely stink bombs, her minefield of muck. We humans crap all over our planet, and stink the place out. And we don’t even have the excuse of senility and feebleness. We just don’t care.

I’ve also been observing my daughter’s dog, and its doggie ways. It’s part of a Staffordshire terrier’s nature to want lots of affection from time to time. It also needs to be active and to go out for long explores regularly, just like Pooh. It needs to walk, and run, and find whatever stimulation it can in the surrounding territory. If it doesn’t have that opportunity it will tear around in hyper-active circles, chasing its own tail; bored, frustrated and somewhat crazed. And then, of course, there’s sex . . .

We humans often don’t allow animals to be themselves and to do what nature intends them to do. And we damned sure have plenty of difficulty in figuring out what nature intends for ourselves. Too often we live by the mores, expectations and exigencies of others who have our well-being and our happiness very far from the centre of their concerns. Or else they have a very fucked-up idea of what well-being consists of.

Each of us has to transform ourselves, and then assist others who are looking for help in transforming themselves, looking to find their own Way, their own Tao. It’s hard work, and very often impossible without a helping hand or two. Ox-herding is far from easy. Even just finding the Ox or the Tao can be next to impossible. Realizing the impossibility of possessing the Ox, or completely determining your own life, can be an impossible task in itself. Understanding that life, the Ox, will of its own accord offer you the benefit of its limitless power and its unstinting support if it so chooses - ah yes . . . that’s another matter entirely. We all need to meditate on that and to remind ourselves of that on a regular basis.

It’s like Kahlil Gibran’s ‘Prophet’ says,
“Think not that you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”

Maybe he could as well have said, “Think not that you can direct the course of life, for life . . .”

The issue is all about being worthy. And that’s all about being true to your true nature: finding your true nature, and being true to yourself. I'm pretty sure this is the Way of Zen.



History was made in the early hours of this morning, London time, when Barack Obama made a stirring speech and claimed victory in the race to become the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America. It was a thrill to see the speech in real time, in full. Wonderful!

Read the full text and see a video of part of the speech here:

1 comment:

  1. We had an Obama speech party over at our flat last night and there were tears and pandemonium.

    It's hard to believe, but I am starting to feel proud to be an American for the first time in a very long time. Thx so much for the comments - anytime you feel like tooting Obama's horn, come on over to my page! :)


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