Today's Haiku

With all the stuff floating around about me getting fired, I thought of this.

Listening to the
rumors float like falling leaves;
do I really care?


Afternoon Haiku

Dogs in the backyard.
I watch them happily play
while I scoop their poo.


If only....

So I got a phone call today telling me that my services were no longer needed at the school at which I was teaching percussion. I had been wondering for a while if it was going to happen or not, as *things* just seemed different. No one thing was necessarily off or blatantly wrong, but there had been an odd "vibe", if you will. I'd noticed it for the entire marching season too. I even spoke to my wife about it several times. I have no idea if what I'm about to write about is why the director decided to move on, nor does it really matter. The decision has been made, and I'm fine with that.

It seems to me that the more into this Buddhism thing I get, the less important other things seem. Not because Zen is "taking over my life" either. It's because other *things* really DON'T matter. The marching band had a bad performance at one contest, and all the entire staff was talking about was how "this kid screwed everyone up" and "these kids can't focus" and on and on and on. I was really offended by it all. I didn't say anything there, but I think others were aware by my absence from the conversations. I couldn't help but think "so what", but the others couldn't stop going on about how "horrible that performance was". That night, at a second contest, we went on to sweep every caption award. Of course everyone was ecstatic. I was happy for the kids, especially since it was their first percussion award in several years, but I was still relatively unaffected by it myself. It was just a "thing".

Everyone seems so attached to winning. I teach because I love to see the progress that kids make over time; to see them grow and foster a love of playing music. I don't teach to win a stupid contest or an award. Sure, it's nice to get recognized for a show that was performed well, but when one is performed poorly, it's really not the end of the world. I've told my students for years that you can't worry about a mistake when performing or any other time. Once it's made, you can't take it back. Sure, we can and should learn from our mistakes, but in the competitive world, especially during a show, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about them, and they should be forgotten as soon as they're made. Worrying about something that is now in the past does nothing to change the fact that it happened. Let it go. Move on. Live in the NOW.

There are many arguments for and against music competitions. I happen to enjoy the teamwork that competing builds. It can be hard not to fall into the "win win win" trap, especially when there are rivalries, intense competition, etc. As I said, it's nice to be recognized as well. All of these competitions are score based, and the scores are based on how *you* perform at that time. They're aren't supposed to be how you performed in comparison to group A or B or C. It ends up looking that way, as each group is given a score and a placing, but according to the score sheets, it's how your group does at that particular time. Having said that, how can anyone be upset at "losing". If you lost, it means that you didn't perform as well as someone else. Big deal. Even better yet...it means another group performed well, and good for the other group! Their performance was awesome. How can we be upset that so and so "beat" us.

This past year I've tried to look at the improvement that individuals have made - that the group has made. I've been working with 8th through 11th grade students, and the advancement has been spectacular. I couldn't be more proud of the students. They are understanding their role in an ensemble better; how even the smallest instrument, dynamic change, or part is extremely important; how being a part of a group can be very rewarding personally; and, most importantly, they are beginning to realize that this very moment is all there is.

I sincerely loved working with the students at this school. I have a great deal of affection for many of them, and will miss them sorely. I very much appreciate the parents of these kids, as they have always supported me and been there for me and their children. Without their help and support, many of the things would never have gotten done. I truly hope that the directors find what they are searching for, which brings me to my final thought (for now).

IF ONLY....If only I had more money....If only my lawn were as green as my neighbors...If only I had a better car....If only I had less work to do....If only we had a better percussion instructor....If only...If only...If only... "If only" is a futile pursuit. Since I always like to end with a quote, here is one from one of my many teachers, the venerable Brad Warner: "In the truest sense none of your desires, no matter what they are, can ever be fulfilled because nothing will ever be *exactly* the way you imagine it to be. The trick here is to give up imagining how things are gonna be. Or, at the very least, to give up believing that the way you imagine things are going to be has anything to do with the way they really will be. It seems to me it's only when you give up wrong notions of what will or won't make you happy that you can really experience each moment as it is."..."All this *if only* gives everyone the perfect excuse to mope around and miss out on all the real joy your life is offering you right this minute."


A Brief Glimpse

I saw something the other day that really made me take notice. So much so that it has made me a much calmer, happier person in many ways. As some of you know, I teach at some local high schools. While at one of their recent indoor percussion rehearsals I witnessed a moment of pure Zenness. It was fantastic. It brought a smile to my face so big the kids wondered what was up. Please allow me to elaborate in great detail.

I mentioned in my last post about a kid that had been reading my Zen books (although he seems to have backed off the reading recently). On this particular evening things were going along without much "outside interference". Outside interference is whatever may be going on in my students lives that they deem necessary to bring into rehearsal, be it good or bad. For whatever reason, high school kids bring EVERYTHING into rehearsal! Call it baggage, crap, B.S., or anything else...if it's happening around them, to them, to someone they know, to someone they don't know, to people they like, people they hate...if it's a piece of paper on the ground, a bird in the air, a dandelion, a text message, homework they haven't done, homework they have done, a quiz, a test, lunch, dinner...anything at all that has nothing to do with what they're doing in percussion rehearsal, they'll focus on it. Apparently, I work at the school that trains kids, very well I might add, to focus on everything but what they're doing. Way to go A-town.

Back to the rehearsal. So there we were, getting along with rehearsal. During the water break "Billy" (not his real name) gets a phone call from one of his parents. All hell breaks loose. They're arguing (yelling really) back and forth for several minutes. When I called the kids back to start rehearsing again, Billy was not a happy camper. I have no idea what was going on, but he was definitely not in "rehearsal mode" anymore. I'd go so far as to say he not only turned off the rehearsal "light", if you will, but smashed the light and the light switch into a few hundred pieces. He did not want to be there.

Now, in this indoor percussion show that they were working on, we were making fun of shipping companies. You know...UPS, FedEx, etc. The kid's uniforms were khaki shorts, black polo shirts, black knee high socks, khaki hats. Pretty funny looking, which is what we were going for. (It worked). Our music was Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin. Now anyone over 25ish will remember when American Airlines used some of the music from Rhapsody in their commercials. It was during this musical moment that our show took a creative, hilarious, turn for the better. Throughout the show, kids are throwing boxes, opening them and destroying them. At the slow point (cue the aforementioned theme music) one of the kids brings out a box and opens it. In it are numerous tutus. Yes. Ballet dance tutus. They put them on and "dance" (and I use that term VERY loosely) to the music. This is when the magic happened.

Billy was the first one with his tutu on. Bear in mind that throughout the entire rehearsal after the phone call, Billy was in no mood to be there. This is about an hour after the call, and he was still just as pissed as when he got off the phone. So he gets his tutu on and starts running out to the center of the floor for his first opening flying leap. As he took off into his midair "splits", a smile crept across his face. It was only there briefly, but it was as clear as can be.

That smile was Zen. He was in that moment. He wasn't thinking about the phone call. He wasn't thinking about getting in trouble later for yelling at his parents. He wasn't thinking about anything but enjoying that one single moment. The smile disappeared as quickly as it appeared, but for that one solitary moment, there was nothing else but the enjoyment of what he was doing exactly at that moment.

When I saw that, I felt something change in me. I suddenly realized how powerful "now" can be. I'd read it a million times. I'd tried to put it into practice, sometimes successful, others not. But this time I saw "now". I physically saw someone living in that exact moment. I saw someone briefly empty everything but the now, and it was spectacular. No troubles. No worries. No thoughts. Just a leap followed by a happy smile.

Since then, I have been different. As I said earlier, I feel calmer, more relaxed. Little things, and big things for that matter, don't bother me much. I'm not pissed at everyone in traffic. I don't worry about things. I pay attention more. (my wife most assuredly appreciates that!) I'm not saying these negative things don't ever happen, but they have certainly decreased many times over. This is good.

To quote Ji Aoi Isshi (13th century):
"Just come to see that everything is passing on,
That nothing in your mind remains
The same for even the span of a breath.
If you see like that for even a moment,
Then for that moment you are free."

Remember...Now is all we have.


Please Stop Whistling!

I wrote this a couple of years ago. I thought it a good segue into my first ever blog.

Please stop whistling. You suck at it. Period. There are only a handful of people on this planet that can justify their whistling, and you are certainly not one of them. I can't sing. I'm not sitting in the doctor's office, singing along to the Sound of Music, am I? You don't hear me walking around in the mall, belting a badly out of tune rendition of Brown Eyed Girl on my trumpet, do you? Why do you feel that you can? Just because it is whistling, I suppose. The whistle should be treated the same as any other musical instrument. It should be practiced. Perfected. Especially if you are going to invade my auditory senses with your incomprehensible "musical" crap. You're probably the same guy that whines and complains about other peoples cell phone ring tones, and how unbelievably annoying they are. Guess what. Your whistling is worse. At least the ring tones are in tune. At least they have rhythm. At least you can shut them off, or hit the mute button when in the doctor's office. Not you. Your just keep going. I wish someone would force feed you about a dozen Saltines.

There are times I still feel the same. Actually, there are a lot of times when I feel that stongly about something. This is the biggest issue I am dealing with as a new Zen Buddhist. Learning to deal with people's stupidity, selfishness, lack of awareness, etc. There are endless people that seem so completely out of tune with society that they fail at even the simplist of tasks; flushing a toilet, using a turn signal, realizing that I can't go any faster than the eight cars in front of me and getting off my ass once they notice that...I could go on forever. How does one get beyond all of that? How do you "just accept things as they are"? Zazen. That's how.

I am still new to Buddhism. I've done a ton of reading over the last year or so, and, to no one's surprise, there is a recurring theme in it all. Zazen. Sit. Seems quite simple, doesn't it? HA! You wish! OK, really. How hard can it be to sit for a while? To make the time to sit. To sit on a Zafu cushion and stare at a wall for a while. You wouldn't think it, but it can be the hardest thing in the world. I'm learning this the hard way.

The worst time for me is when I am driving. I'm pretty sure that the place for most people to be their least tolerant is in the car. I am no exception. My biggest beef as of late are social drivers. You know the ones. You catch up to them on the interstate as if they were standing still, then suddenly you can't pass them, even though your cruise control is set. Once you do (if you do), they ride your ass as if you were the one going slow. So you pull over to let them pass. In a mile or two, when they finally realize how fast they're really going, they slow back down to where they were before. Of course, you catch up and the game begins anew. There are also the social drivers that just have to slow down to approximately .254742 mph faster than the car they are trying to pass. Technically they're going faster than the car on their right, but not really. I try to tell myself that "they're just stupid" or "they don't realize" or something, but that doesn't usually work. I am getting much better than I used to be, when I would honk and cuss and flip off just about anyone that didn't drive like I thought they should. Now I typically just speed around the idiot and go about my listening to whatever on the radio. There are still times that my middle finger makes an appearance out the top of my sunroof or plastered to my window, but they are getting to be fewer and fewer. It's a start.

I am slowly getting into the habit of sitting on a daily basis. Let me repeat...SLOWLY. The funny thing is, when I sit, even for only a couple of days in a row, I feel better. Calmer. The day I don't sit, however, I quickly go back to my "old ways". It's really quite frustrating, to be honest. Knowing what that calmness, that serenity of accepting about anything feels like, and then ignoring it in order to "teach that guy a lesson" or whatever, makes me feel like shit. I end up getting mad at myself over it. Either that, or I get so caught up in the hatred of the moment that I don't even think about my Zenness for a while. By the way...I don't know if Zenness is a word. I made it up to describe the whole package of what I think, feel, etc. when it comes to being a Zen Buddhist. It's after a bad experience that I will quickly find a quiet spot to practice Zazen.

I am trying to find that quiet spot more and more often, not because of bad experiences, but because I need to. There is a need in me to find the calmness that is attained during Zazen. During that time, I am Zazen. I am my breath. I am the air. It's very satisfying to "just sit". I can come close to the half-lotus position, but the full lotus is out of the question. It doesn't matter though. I don't think how my legs are has anything to do with my mind, or especially with keeping my mind clear...with letting thoughts come and go, but not letting them overtake my practice. As long as I can keep my posture right, I think I'll be OK in my old "indian style". The zafu certainly helps though. The first several times I sat without one...YIKES!! I couldn't sit for five minutes without my legs or feet falling asleep. I'm making my own zafu in the coming days. I hope it doesn't fall apart! I'm not the strongest when it comes to sewing. That may actually end up a blog in itself!

I have a percussion student that has been reading my Zen books after I finish them. He is young, and is dealing with all of the crap that goes along with being a 16 year old high school kid these days. He too, is a beginner. I'm not sure how far he will go in his studies, as there are about a million other things on his mind besides a new religion, but he tries. He reads, he asks questions about the stuff he doesn't get, and he even sits on occasion. I like that. He even came up to me last night to shake my hand and say "thanks". Thanks for introducing him to Zen. I was focused on something else at the time, and it didn't really hit me until I was thinking about it later that night. How awesome is it that because of my giving him a few books, and because of me trying to maintain my Zenness in a rehearsal setting, he thought enough of that to thank me. "If you wanna change the world, it starts with one person." Let the changes begin!

I've heard that "someone else has already said it better, so use them, and end on a high note". Sounds like a good idea. I'd like to end each of my blogs with a quote from a Buddhist Master. Today I'll end with Shantideva, from his "Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life". Perhaps if I would take the following into account when driving or whatever, I'd be much better off...and much more relaxed!

"If it were the very nature of a childish person to inflict harm on others, it would be no more reasonable to get angry with him than it would be to resent the fire for burning us. On the other hand, if that were a temporary fault and that person were otherwise good-natured, it would be just as unreasonable to get angry with him as it would be to resent space for filling with smoke."