Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Monkfest in Chang Mai, Thailand

On the first day we came to Chiang Mai we visited our favorite temple, Wat Pra Singh. It was clear at the time they were preparing for something big. There was much building going on – one sculpture three stories tall and several sitting areas for hundreds of chairs.

Slowly the building took shape, and each day we revisited, more monks seem to be milling about. The place was clearly gearing up for something. Then, after weeks of preparation, what Herman and I are calling a Monk-fest began, complete with live music, lots of ceremonies, plenty of praying, and a nightly session where an aged monk climbed on to a dais, and droned on in Thai, while several hundred monks and spectators prayed.

After two days, of witnessing these events, an English-speaking monk informed us that the aged monk speaking nightly was the President of all monks in Thailand, and monks from all over Asia had traveled here to hear his lectures on the Dharma. As it turned out, this festival was a five-day advanced training session for monks which also included the cremation of another venerable monk. (we have no idea who)

Indeed, I have never seen so many monks gathered in one place in all my travels. Unfortunately, we were not able to understand any of his teaching because we only speak a few words of Thai. It was, however, fascinating simply to sit in the background and watch the various ceremonies and listen to the chanting. On the last night, the three story structure they had build was burned to the ground, accompanied by fireworks and loud music. It turned out that it was the venerable monk’s funeral pyre.

You can view all our pictures of this event at: http://hermanandalan.blogspot.com

Happy New Year to All.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Two Glasses of Wine

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 glasses of wine...

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.

Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two glasses of wine from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor, as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions; things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else; the small stuff.

If you put the sand into the jar first, he continued, there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.

The same goes for life: If you spend all your time and energy on the small Stuff.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first; the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the wine represented.

The professor smiled. 'I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of glasses of wine with a friend.'

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Smokie is Teaching Me

This is a bittersweet post for me. I want to write about what my dog Smokie is teaching me. You see, last week he came down with a digestive track infection, which meant vomiting and diarrhea – lots of diarrhea – all through the night. Him being a rather large Labrador, and his age being well beyond thirteen, any illness is a serious one.

The next day, when it became obvious it wasn’t clearing up, and he was getting weak from dehydration, I took him to the vet. They put him on an IV to restore his fluids, and also so medicine to clear up the diarrhea. He was laid up for three days, during which time he was too weak to stand up. But on Saturday we brought him home.

So for the past four days, he’s been teaching me the meaning of love, of patience, of giving of myself. At first he refused food and water. I literally had to pry his mouth open and force food down his throat. But that was an easy problem to work through. The harder issue is that, being so weak coupled with the fact of several days on end of lying on a pillow, his hind legs no longer function properly. For him to walk, I have to wrap a towel under his belly and lift his hind quarters in the air, then I have to hold him up while we walk out to the yard. I’m doing this five or six time a day to give his hind legs exercise. The hope, of course, is that his legs will regain enough strength that he will be able to walk on his own. If they don’t, which is likely, I’ll have to put him down. But I’m not giving up hope, not yet.

He doesn’t seem to be in pain, so the idea of putting him down simply because he can’t walk seems cruel. I lay down with him on his pillow, and he still enjoys all the attention – the petting, the scratch behind the ear, the treats. So he still has the capability to enjoy life.

And what I’ve learned, am still learning, is that as long as he’s capable of enjoyment, as long as he’s not in pain, then I’m willing to do whatever it takes to give him that extra day or week or month of life, because he has taught me the depth of my love for him. I’m not kidding myself. I’ve known for a while that his time is drawing to an end. So I’m am literally thinking in terms of weeks or a month.

He has been such a loyal friend for these past thirteen years, and a huge part of my life. He gives unconditional love and asks for only food, a walk, and some pats on the head in return. Only one other time of my life have I experienced this kind of heart wrenching loss, when my father passed away. Indeed, I’ve recently learned that I love Smokie as reverently as any of my immediate family. Only my husband stands above him in importance.

I will do whatever it takes to keep him comfortable and give him that extra time. Each day I spend with him, no matter how hard, is another day of a shared love. And after all, what’s important, what he’s taught me, is there is nothing more important than love.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Touching Creativity

I would like to touch on a phenomenon I have experienced many times, and I am always awed and very grateful when it occurs. I call it, touching Creativity.

I look at creativity as something much larger than what goes on in my head when I write. I see it as weaving through this wondrous universe, something that infiltrates all life and binds us life forms together. Some people call it God, others call it Life. I call it Creativity. When I write I feel myself open up to this force. I sometimes feel it in the room with me as I struggle over some bit of prose, as if it were something substantial hovering above me, like a muse.

When I let go of my own ego-driven thoughts and just let the words flow, this force seems to take over, to replace me and spill onto the page. At other time, it seems to draw what I need to me.

For example, last week I found that a line from a Yeat’s poem I had used in my upcoming release of Changi, I had also used the same line in my first published novel, Island Song. So, red faced, I pulled out my volume of Yeat’s works to search for different poem. Before even scanning the table of contents, I randomly opened the volume to a middle page and read the first poem – it was perfect, exactly what I was hoping for. I flipped to a different page and read another poem only to find that it was perfect as well. Coincidence? I don’t believe in chance. I believe that Creativity guided me, and the reason I have come to believe this is because it has not happened in only a few isolated circumstances. It happens often.

When it does happen, when I feel something larger than myself take over, guiding my thoughts, my fingers, a joy washes though me. I am not a religious person, don’t believe in a God, but I must say that at times these feelings seem spiritual.

There is something out there binding life together, and tapping into that force never fails to amaze and delight me. It is probably my most passionate motivation for writing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Words of Wisdom from Lao-tzu

Twenty-five centuries ago, Lao-tze said: “Existence is beyond the power of words to define.” He was adamant on this point, repeating again and again: “Existence is infinite, not to be defined.” Yet, if we want to explore the mysteries of life, of the universe we live in, what are we to do if what he says is true, that no matter how intense our scientific study, the universe will always elude our definitions and hence, our understanding? He gave us his answer:
There is no need to run outside
For better seeing,
Nor to peer from a window. Rather abide
At the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.

Lao-tzu’s words appear to be a criticism of academic undertakings, and he goes on to say:
Leave off fine learning! End the nuisance
Of saying yes to this and perhaps to that,
Distinctions with how little significance!
Categorical this, categorical that,
What slightest use are they!

His words seem to be apposed to scholarly learning, which goes against everything in Western society. He goes on to explain why:
People through finding something beautiful
Think something else unbeautiful,
Through finding one man fit
Judge another unfit.
Life and death, though stemming from each other,
Seem to conflict as stages of change,
Difficult and easy as phases of achievement,
Long and short as measures of cntrast,
High and low as degrees of relation;
But since the varying of tones gives music to a voice
And what is is the was of what shall be,
The sanest man
Sets up no deed,
Lays down no law,
Takes everything that happens as it comes…

I believe what he is saying above is that distinctions are a spider’s web, and if you approach the world through distinctions, you will never untangle yourself. Only accepting what comes without judgment, can you free yourself of the worlds pains.

The surest test if a man be sane
Is if he accepts life whole, as it is,
Without needing by measure or touch to understand
The measureless untouchable source
Of its images . . .

His teachings are antirational and anti-intellectual, but he is consistent with the teachings of the Buddha. And what the Buddha’s path promised was not understand or salvation, but of freeing oneself of worldly pain.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Music, like Writing, is More Than Mere Entertainment. It has Spiritual Power.

A dear friend passed me the Karl Paulnack article I've posted below. As a musician, he felt this article touched a deep truth within him. After reading this remarkable article on the meaning of music, I can say that it touched me equally as deep, not because I love music, but because everything Karl Paulnack says about music also applies equally to writing.I hope you enjoy Mr. Paulnack's words of wisdom, and I welcome your comments.

As artists, we believe deeply in the importance and power of what we do.

This is a welcome address given to entering freshmen at the Boston Conservatory by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division. You may contact Mr. Paulnack at kpaulnack@bostonconservatory.edu

One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, "you’re WASTING your SAT scores." On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music? And yet—from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day. At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York , that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pastime. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds. Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings—people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier—even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?"

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:
"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevys. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why I Don’t Attend Church, Any Church!

In my family, we couldn’t discuss religion because as far as my parents were concerned, you took what the preacher said on blind faith and you never, ever, questioned it. That’s what happened in the better families, we thought, and we desperately wanted to be thought of as one of the better families. So for us, the biblical stories of creation, the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, and the virgin birth of Jesus Christ – all the stories I had trouble swallowing even at a young age – were not fables or metaphors, they were factual history. So no matter how preposterous the story, anything they told us in Sunday school was taken as fact. We were pressured to accept the word of God (interpreted by our preacher) rather than think for ourselves.

The reason why such outlandish things were possible 2,000+ years ago but not now was, I was told, that at some point – I think it was after the great flood – God decided to stop meddling in the affairs of mankind and let us sink or swim as we would, all the time keeping strict account of who was naughty and who was nice (yes, the God myth and Santa Claus myth are almost identical, yet you’re considered a moron if you believe in Santa Claus after the age of 5 or 6.)
I somehow knew from a very early age that something was very wrong, that the biblical stories were not factual. What I didn’t understand was why so many seemingly intelligent people smiled gratefully, and humbly nodded their heads as they claimed to believe, and then fell on their knees to proclaim their praise of the Almighty.

Many years passed before I came to realize that the majority of these “believers”, including my own parents, no more believe in those regions stories than I did. It was clear to me that anybody who truly believed in what the Bible put forth wouldn’t dare act in the way that almost everyone did. When trillions of years of the agony of hell-fire was at stake, no sane person would dare tell even the smallest of lies, cheat on their taxes (let alone their spouse), horde their wealth while others starved, etc, etc, etc. There’s an old saying: judge people not by what they say, but how they act, and when you do that, you quickly realize that hardly anybody truly believes those biblical stories.

The hypocrisy became obvious to me, but what could motivate so many people to be so two-faced, I wondered. I struggled for years to understand.

I, of course, can’t speak for the majority of people who fall into this category, but I think I can speak truthfully about my family, whom I’ve known and studied for several decades. So I will discuss them in the hope they shed light on the actions of others like them.

At first I thought this hypocrisy stemmed from a deep seeded fear of death, that they were so terrified of non-existence, they clutched at any straw of hope, no matter how preposterous, that offered ongoing, eternal existence – even if that existence guaranteed the ragging fires of hell and that seemed to be better than nothing at all. And I know that that is the foundation upon which my parents, if not all “believers”, built their faith. But with my parents and siblings, the structure that sat on that foundation had a much different look and feel.

For my family, belief was the price you paid to be welcomed into the fold of the church, and church, they believed, gave them certain benefits: respectability, a sense of community, an occasional helping hand, enriched their social life, and allowed them to mingle with people they thought were of a higher class.

You see, both my parents came from poor ranch people, and neither was well educated (my father could only read at a 3rd grade level and needed an adding machine to perform simple addition.) So being accepted into the church gave them a social status that they couldn’t otherwise have archived without hard work and extensive learning. It was so much easier to say: we believe, tell us how to behave, help us to be good people.

So I finally came to understand that though my parents didn’t really believe all those stories, or the existence of Heaven or Hell, they wholeheartedly believed in the benefits of the church. The church was good, and that automatically made them good. The church was filled with educated and virtuous people, and that made them seem more educated and virtuous. And best of all, they believed that the church members were a better class of people from where they had come from, which meant that they were lifted a few rungs up the social ladder and could look down on the non-believers.

So this is what I’ve come to believe about many worshippers of organized religions, who claim to believe these outlandish stories of a little old man who sits on a throne far far away and keeps tabs 24/7 on who is naughty and who is nice – that the benefits that these worshippers are after is not a place in Heaven, but social advantages here on earth. And I am certain that the churches are wholly aware of those motives as well, and uses them to attract and retain members (paying customers).

I’m not saying the church doesn’t do fine works for the needy, or that there are no compassionate and pious people in the church, or that the church’s members don’t get value for their donations. I’m saying quiet the opposite, but the issue that sticks in my craw is that the church hides behind a cloak of lies in order to attack their followers.

As a man in search of truth, I generally turn and run from most organized religions.
I think everyone should be as skeptical as possible regarding religion. That they should experience life (the whole of existence) directly, and then discover for themselves what is truth. Many people have done this for themselves, including myself, through mediation, prayer, fasting, mind altering drugs, chanting, yoga. The point is to find out for yourself, rather than take some preacher’s word for what lay beyond death. The answers are there to find, if only you bother to look. For me, that meant becoming a lover of truth, rather than a lover of the idea of God.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Long Slow Path

Twenty-five+ years ago, I was living in San Francisco, attending college at night to earn an Information Technology degree while working full time at an entry level position in a computer services company. I was out. I had a caring lover who worked at the same company, plenty of friends, a stylish apartment, and living in the gay capital of the world before the age of AIDS. It was all wonderfully exciting. I was living my dream and thought I had the world by the tail. Then a friend loaned me a book by Carlos Castaneda about an Indian sorcerer named Don Juan who seemed to live in a different reality.

Castaneda tickled my curiosity, but more importantly, he made me feel that perhaps there was more to life that a great lover and a good career. Before I could blink, I devoured three more Castaneda books, a few Seth books and a little gem by Ram Dass called Be Here Now. By that time I had moved beyond the “mildly interested” faze, and was already inching down a path that would lead me deep into Eastern philosophy towards a destination that I had no inkling of.

Before I knew what was up, I was spending time in daily meditation, reading everything I could get my hands on regarding philosophy, and repeatedly going into the California deserts to perform week long vision quests. I was very lucky, in that my lover at the time was also quite happy to travel that same path with me. In fact, at times it seemed that he was leading the way down that path, at other times he was dragging me along, as he was always quicker on the uptake that I was. It was something we did together and it did wonders for our relationship.

All those books and vision quests and talks with “teachers” led me to Zen, which seemed to me to be the cornerstone that many other religions and philosophies were built on. All the religions I’ve studied (including Christianity), once you strip away the fairytale dogma, it comes down to diminishing the ego (Satan) to let the unconscious (Christ) shine through as a way to touch enlightenment (God). And that is exactly what Zen is all about with a no frills, straightforward manner. I was a student of Zen, and Buddhism in general, for over fifteen years.

And now, yes, finally coming to the Now, I am venturing beyond Zen and tiptoeing down my path to learning the nature of the universe and the nature of life, and inching closer to Enlightenment.

After all these years, I still have no clear definition of what Enlightenment is, although I’ve had several enlightenment experiences that have given me a taste of it. The one thing I am absolutely clear about is, Enlightenment is not a matter of gaining or attaining something. It is a matter of losing something.

Several of the readers of my first published novel, Island Song, have expressed an interest in the spiritual thoughts expressed in that story. Rather than respond to each question, or attempt to write a spiritual book, I have started this blog as a means of recording my spiritual thoughts and experiences and readings as I walk my path, and also as a vehicle to allow others to add their own knowledge and experiences.

So if you are interested in reading about Zen, Buddhism, spiritualism, or interested in sharing your own thoughts and experiences, then tune in, comment on, and if you have a post you’d like me to post, email me at AlanHChin@aol.com.