Friday, November 26, 2010

In Love with Capitalism

CHANGE, Hong Kong, 2010

Hong Kong makes you want to love capitalism. There is an extraordinary vibrancy about it. Nearly seven million people crammed into high-rises that seem to go up forever, spilling onto the sidewalks, zooming around in red Japanese-made taxis, crowding into the MTR trains, eating yum cha in cavernous diners where dim sum is served straight from the kitchen with an impersonal, cool efficiency.

Everything is organized for maximum throughput. Physical barriers and signs are in place to channel those huge crowds where they need to go. From the time our plane's wheels touched down on the tarmac of Hong Kong International to sitting down on the bed in the minuscule room of Hotel Benito in Kowloon took less than an hour and a half. That was just the beginning.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sacred Space

Berliner Currywurst at Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche
Berliner Currywurst at Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, Berlin, 2010

I had an interesting conversation with my wife the other day. "Doesn't it bother you that the forms of Zen are so Japanese?" she asked. It doesn't. One reason is that I've always had a liking for Japanese esthetics. There are other reasons, though, and they're what led to the conversation.

Human beings are rather a peculiar species in many ways. We're at the same time extremely social, and extremely territorial. We spend an incredible amount of effort on dividing space into zones. Some zones are designated "public." Others are designated "private" to any of a near-infinity of levels, from spaces like movie theaters or malls at one end of the continuum to bedrooms and missile defense bunkers at the other. Some of the dividing lines are physical and visible; others are subtler cues that we just agree to respect. What we think of as space is very much an artifact of this process of division and re-division.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Retreat Afterglow

October Sunset
October Sunset, Helsinki, 2010

Last weekend's Zen retreat had some quite interesting after-effects. My general mental state this week has been rather different than usual. That has mostly—although not quite completely—faded by now, which is a shame, because I liked it.

This week at work should have been somewhat upsetting and definitely stressful. There have been some changes that are not altogether pleasant, some tasks that are not particularly exciting or interesting, and a lot of interruptions coming from all directions. Normally, I would be a wreck by now; stressed out of my skull, irritated, surly, and generally not much fun at all.

We're participating in a research project that requires us to assess our stress levels for each day, and my check mark was at "Much lower than usual" all week, despite all the stuff going on. Now, I'm feeling peaceful if looking forward to a good night's sleep and a quiet weekend.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My second Zen retreat

End of October
End of October, Pernaja, October 30, 2010

I spent last weekend doing nothing, as well as I was able. There were about 35 of us, all doing nothing together. It was rather wonderful.

To make it more interesting, the place we were doing nothing in had a water shortage. It's not connected to the municipal water supply. Instead, it has two wells, which were running dry, because there hasn't been all that much rain this autumn. So, as Timo, one of the two zendo leaders put it, we had the rare privilege of practicing mindfulness in not wasting a single drop. We were rather smelly come Sunday, but there was some water left for a sauna. That was nice.