The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” is often true. I’ve been studying and practicing Zen for going on forty years, and I resently came a cross a picture on FB that encapsulated my impression of what Zen Practice is all about. Buddhist call it being mindful. New Age folks often call it staying in the moment. Whatever you call it, I believe the picture below clearly shows the essence of Zen practice, and the secret to a happy life.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Normally, good writers are not eclectic. Each focuses his/her oeuvre on a single idea, a subject that ignites his/her passion, a theme he/she chases with beautiful variation through a lifetime of work.
For example, Hemingway was captivated with the idea of how to face death. After he witnessed his father’s suicide, it became his central premise, in writing and in life. He examined death in war, in sport, on safari, until he finally took his own life.
Charles Dickens, whose father was imprisoned for debt, wrote of the lonely child searching for the lost father in almost all his great works: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations.
Not that I’m in the same league as Hemingway and Dickens, but I also have a central theme that keeps popping up over and over—a gay protagonist who gets crushed by an unkind world, who picks himself up, and crawls through hell in order to pursue his dream, and ends up finding something even more treasured than he first imagined.
Looking back on my history, I can pinpoint where this theme came from. When I was just coming into manhood, my father had a cancer operation that left him bedridden and weak as a newborn. His doctors told him he had only months to live. He fought back, day by day, recovering his strength an iota at a time. He beat the cancer, and eventually returned to work. He lived for another sixteen years. Because of his illness, he was forced to give up drinking. He attended AA, and became a supporter of the Twelve Step Method. His last several years he spent mentoring recovering alcoholics, which brought him enormous gratification. He lost everything, fought back, which led to a new calling, and that eventually led to a meaningful life. His battle has been my inspiration all these years.
Like so many other writers, I have found a subject and it sustains me over the long journey of the writer.
Genre should be a constant source of reinspiration. Every time I reread my manuscript, I get excited about it, because it is my kind of story, drawn from the thing in my past that most inspires me.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
I believe that all humans seek happiness, and I’ve come to think that attaining happiness is our purpose in life. Whether an individual is religious or not (and it makes no difference which religion one follows) we all strive to make our lives better, which means some sort of movement towards attaining what we imagine to be happiness.
Yet, achieving true happiness in today’s society has become, more and more, ill defined, elusive, and ungraspable. For many, those moments of occasional joy that life brings are fleeting, and bouts of happiness feels like something that comes out of the blue, and disappears just as quickly.
Yet, I believe true happiness comes from understanding one’s needs, and training one’s mind to develop and sustain happiness. It takes inner discipline. It takes knowing yourself. It takes a willingness to change your habits.
I believe this because this is how I created a life full of happiness for myself, after decades of striving to achieve it. For me that first meant meeting several basic needs: a quiet home environment where I could write, a loving partner, caring friends, basic food and material needs. But I needed more to be truly happy. And that more, I eventually learned, was a willingness to reach out to others, to create a feeling of affinity and goodwill, even in the briefest of encounter.
The Dalai Lama once said, “My religion is kindness.” That simple statement had a profound effect on me. It seemed more compassionate than the old “Do Unto Others” I’d always tried to follow. After much thought, I made that my religion as well. Every hour of the day, I strive to show kindness to all living creatures.
It sounds simple, yet it was extremely difficult for me. And I’m still striving to make it a way of living. What is hard is crushing my ego so that I put others needs before mine, even people who rub me the wrong way. But with inner discipline, it can be realized.
I no longer compete with my fellow men and women. I put their needs above my own. Even when people are rude or insulting, I try to absorb those negative feeling and respond with kindness. When I hear political discussions where people are insulting one politician or another, I refuse to participate. Not that I don’t have my opinions on politics, I simply refuse to be rude to anybody.
And what I’ve found over the last few years, is this attitude of kindness is the key ingredient for making my life happy. Call it karma. Call it anything you want. Being kind to others makes me feel good. It brings happiness to my fellow humans, and it brings a double measure of happiness back to me.
Monday, July 4, 2016
I started the day like I start every day: while still in bed, staring out the window to appreciate the sunrise, I felt grateful that I’m allowed to live yet another day.
I began this habit about three months ago, opening the day with a little prayer of thanks. I’m not acknowledging God or the Buddha or Allah. It’s simply expressing that warm feeling of gratitude I feel in my heart. In my old age, I’ve come to appreciate that life is so precious that I can’t waste even a second of it. And what time I do have I must live fully, and with great joy.
I choose to celebrate this day, this hour, this time I have now. I celebrate living.
Living a life steeped in gratitude, for me, is enormously uplifting. It makes me focus on what blessing I have gathered, rather than agitating on what I don’t have. I have a loving husband, good friends, comfortable home, my writing, and excellent health. I consider myself a wealthy man, and I’m utterly grateful.
Friday, June 24, 2016
While reading Memoirs by Tennessee Williams, I came across this passage:
What is it like being a writer? I would say it is like being free.
I know that some writers aren’t free, they are professionally employed, which is quite a different thing.
Professionally, they are probably better writers in the conventional sense of “better.” They have an ear to the ground of bestseller demands: they please their publishers and presumably their public as well.
But they are not free and so they are not what I regard a true writer as being.
To be free is to have achieved your life.
It means any number of freedoms.
It means the freedom to stop when you please, to go where and when you please, it means to be a voyager here and there, one who flees many hotels, sad or happy, without obstruction and without much regret.
It means the freedom of being. And someone has wisely observed, if you can’t be yourself, what’s the point of being anything at all?
I think there is much more to being a writer than what Mr. Williams pens here (at least a good writer), but if this is a valid definition of a writer, then I am, unquestionably, a writer. I fit this description perfectly. I am a voyager loose upon the world, who travels four to six months each year, loving each place I stay and having no regrets when I depart for the next destination. And I craft my stories in my voice the way I damn well want, giving little thought to publishers or audience. If nothing else, I have achieved that freedom in my life, and I wouldn’t give it up for a NY Times bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize, or an Oscar.
Saturday, June 11, 2016
When meeting people for the first time, I try to approach them from a standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, and emotions. We are all born the same way, and we all die. All of us strive for happiness and try to avoid suffering. We all want respect, and to be treated fairly. We are all driven by the environments we live in, and we all strive for a better future.
Seeing others from this standpoint rather than emphasizing secondary differences such as race, sex, nationality, religion, political viewpoints, or financial status helps me to feel that I’m meeting someone who’s the same as me, no better and no worse. I like to think that all humans have 98% in common, and only 2% differences. I find that relating to others on this level makes it easier to communicate with them compassionately, and respect their place in the world.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
I recently read that Steven Spielberg, in a commencement speech, told the Harvard University graduating class to “Find a villain to vanquish.”
I found that advice interesting, because I identified my villain over thirty years ago, and I’ve been fighting him ever since. I’ve tried numerous methods to vanquish this foe, but he keeps coming back, hounding me, making my life miserable. It does no good to simply wound him. I know now I have to kill him in order to be forever free.
That villain? My nemesis? It’s the voice in my head—the ego self-identified as Alan Chin.
And why is he so hard to defeat? Because he often masquerades as a compassionate soul. He more often than not convinces me that he is me, and to hurt him means hurting myself. It’s not true of course. He is a devious creation, and I’ve learned through experience that it is the source of all my anxiety and unhappiness.
Unhappiness? How you ask: because my ego compares and contrasts my life and accomplishments with others, which turns into judgments about them and about me, and I so often come up short and find fault with others in order to defend myself. My ego creates a prison from the expectations of others, and makes me condemn myself and belittle my accomplishments because they don’t measure up to those expectations.
I’m convinced that in all religious myths, including Christianity and Islam, that speak of God vs. Satan and Heaven vs. Hell, these mythical beings and places represent the following: Satan represents the ego; God (or Christ) represents the mind without ego; Heaven is the state of mind without ego dominating thought; and hell is identifying the self as the ego, rather than the true self.
In other words, what’s known as Heaven or Enlightenment or a State of Grace is living in the here and now without ego. I’m not there yet, but each day I know my foe better and better, and I keep fighting the important battle.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Life is a mathematical problem of which the last result is the sum of its actions.
If you want that end result to be of value to yourself and the rest of humanity, then it’s best to heed the following advice: Be sincere and honest with yourself. Ask yourself if everything you do, if every hour of the day contributes to the happy formation of your destiny. If not, find out how to give the right direction to your efforts. Try to discover your faults and eliminate them. Keep always awake in your thoughts the thirst and restless search for beauty and knowledge.
Monday, February 1, 2016
In the news this week, there are two American cities living on bottled water because America is literally being poisoned by greed. It’s as simple as that. Men and women who already have millions are doing anything—no matter the human or environmental cost—to become even richer. The are hoarding immense fortunes rather than reinvesting in the society that made them rich.
The one percent are buying politicians, poisoning our air, water, land, and sea so that they can own yet another mansion and million-dollar yacht in Palm Beach to match the one they own in Martha’s Vineyard, which matches the one they own in the South of France. It doesn’t seem to matter to them how many people struggle in poverty, nor how many people they injure or kill, nor how badly they pollute the earth for future generations. Their single goal is corporate profits so that they and their families can become one of the privileged few.
I’m not pointing fingers at any religion or political party because this pandemic of greed affects everyone. It is greed—the idea of putting your needs above everyone else. The attitude of: I’ve got mine so fuck all the others. How many people have to die of gun violence before gun manufactures put human lives before their corporate profits? How many people have to starve before congress is forced to spend less on wars and more on the welfare of the nation? How many people have to be poisoned before the rich are shamed into caring?
So the question is, how can we convince these one-percenters that gathering riches at the detriment of others is shameful? How do we convince them that raising the standard of living for everyone will make their lives more fulfilling? An image comes to mind: Jimmy Carter helping to build housing for the needy. How do we make him a poster child for what is honorable and moral, and make it stick.
How can we as a nation convince people, all people, to put the good of society above their own needs, compassion above greed?
I don’t have the answer to those questions. But I do know that it is possible to insure everyone in America lives above the poverty line, that no child goes hungry, that all people have a shot at a decent education and a fulfilling career that allows a comfortable standard of life. Call me a socialist if you must, and I will proudly wear that badge of honor, because I believe that nobody can truly hold their head high when so many people are struggling to survive day to day.
From what I see, there is a cancer consuming our nation, and its name is greed.
Friday, January 22, 2016
I’ve seen some disturbing trends on TV and Facebook lately; actually I’ve seen them for a long time but they are getting more pronounced and widespread, and I’m bothered by it. This trend is to bash anyone who holds a different opinion. It’s a form of hate, a form of bullying, and I believe it needs to stop.
I see it daily, personal attacks aimed at Donald Trump, Ted Cruise, Hilary Clinton, Kim Davis, and the like. Liberals and Conservatives. Educated and ill-informed. I see these people launching personal attacks on others for being hateful, and I think, what hypocrites we’ve all turned into. What makes anyone feel that voicing one form of hate is justified to combat another form of hate?
Many seem to feel it’s open season for anyone on the national stage, that fame makes people an acceptable target. I disagree. Hate is hate. It’s ugly and it’s destructive no matter who it’s aimed at.
Last year one of my New Year’s resolutions was to speak no evil of anyone, to stay positive and not voice any negative thoughts. I found it particularly hard at first, especially considering what’s going on with the national political front. I hold strong opinions about people and issues, but I’m forcing myself to only voice positives. It’s the old Golden Rule in action.
Please believe me, I’m not trying to sound holier than thou. I’m no better than anyone. But once I began living the Golden Rule in earnest, it became much more obvious how many others don’t.
I’m continuing that resolution this year because in the end, it makes me feel better about myself and others. There are still many people I disagree with, but I find it’s more helpful to support what I do agree with, rather than condemn what I dislike. And personally, I feel it’s the right thing to do. I mean, seriously, who the hell am I to criticize anyone else? I’ve not reached perfection yet, far from it, but I’ve learned it’s better to promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.
Come on people, let’s discuss issues like adults, not sling insults like children.