Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Simple pleasures

Tomorrow, if there is dawn, Cheri and I will drive in the early morning  to visit our friends in Oregon and spend New Year with them.They live in Willamette Valley where the best Pinot Noirs are located. Their children live nearby.
I will be on sabbatical from cyberspace for a week.  Days will be of simple  exquisite pleasures- friendship, taste of the vineyards, cool  fresh Oregon air, and green country.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pride and vanity

Pride and Vanity

from the Hermits by Peter France: 
“But the (Desert) Fathers made an important distinction between pride, the first of the deadly sins and cause of the fall of the angels, and vanity, which is simply the desire for the praise of others. Vanity promotes ostentation; pride, which is more insidious, can make a person indifferent to the impression he makes on others.So vanity is easily spotted; pride often lurks beneath a show of humility and piety.” 
...Pride “creeps into the soul of the righteous person who feels the first twinge of satisfaction in having behaved well.”
Humility-“...The defense against both vanity and pride is humility...Our virtue consists in not making evident a superiority of birth, education or income. Its essence is that those who know themselves to be superior should be at some pains to disguise the fact...The humility of the Desert Fathers was more deep-seated."

...”Discernment-This is the most valuable of the virtues. Many are given humility, many have love, but without discernment they can harm themselves and others. It is a sort of sanctified common sense but by the name of spiritual discernment. It sees the humorous side of exaggeration and affectation.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Merry Christmas

The nativity set is from Cheri's grandmother.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2011


The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery opens with-”1856-1866. When I was NINE, in the city now called Kyoto, I changed my fate. I walked into the shrine through the red arch and struck the bell. I bowed twice. I clapped twice. I whispered to the foreign goddess and bowed again. And then I heard the shouts and the fire. What I asked for? Any life but this one.”
From The Intellectual Life: Foreword:”Among the works of St. Thomas (Aquinas) there is a letter to certain Brother John, in which are enumerated Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring the Treasure of Knowledge.” The Intellectual Life by A.D. Sertillanges,O.P. is inspired by the precepts.
3 years ago, in June, we were in Bandon, Oregon, we saw a spacious place and abundant life, during the lowest tide.  There are offerings of life in abundance every day.
Frederick Franck quoted a Buddha saying: “We do not learn by experience, but by our capacity for experience.”
I try to express my understanding of things which is, perhaps, also my ignorance of things. With sincere hard efforts I hope to improve my understanding and diminish my ignorance. A progression from pride to humility to discernment (PhD). 
Along the way I will need help, real and inferred. In the end, I will need grace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What do you do with time?

What do you do with time? Some divide, fill, spend,save and squander time.The monks have their Hours that divide the day. Homeschoolers have the Rule of Six which I modified slightly and adopted for my daily activities-Books, PIES (Philanthropy with time and hands, Imaginative play (walk in the outdoors),Encounters with beauty ( art, music, and nature), Silence (prayer) ), and Ideas to ponder and create.
From the Summer by John Ashbery (2nd stanza of 6)
“For the time being the shadow is ample
And hardly seen, divided among the twigs of a tree,
The trees of a forest, just as life is divided up
Between you and me, and among all the others out there.”
Ideas to ponder come while I am reading, during play or walk. Prayer happens while I’m walking or listening to music. After all, in the end, life itself is a prayer.
I keep a stack of books at the bedside.Which book gets the most attention is what interest me most at the moment. It can get interrupted if I bring home a new book that seems so different, with simple or complex stories that entrance. 
Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina,and the Little Prince remain my favorite books.I’m fascinated by the stories of Jorge Luis Borges.
This month I’m reading spiritual books and one of them is Hermits by Peter France with anecdotes and insights of solitude. “Of the depth of their spiritual experience they had little to say:but their every action showed a standard of values that turns the world upside down. It was their humility, their gentleness, their heart breaking courtesy that was the seal of their sanctity to their contemporaries, far beyond abstinence, miracle or sign.”
Poetry ranges from T.S.Eliot to John Ashbery
My music varies but tilts to classical. I always like Beethoven since I was in school. Schubert’s Ave Maria, Meditation from “Thais” and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor move me whenever I hear them. I listen often to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  With singers I often listen to Lara Fabian,Loreena McKennit and Sarah Brightman.
Recently I’m attracted to photography. I’m trying to learn how to take pictures.
There are other things, like chess, which I will always like and forever play. And I will always dream to be near the sea .
2nd stanza of 6  from As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat by John Ashbery
“So this was all, but obscurely
I felt the stirrings of new breath in the pages
Which all winter long had smelled like an old catalogue.
New sentences were starting up. But the summer
Was well along, not yet past the mid-point
But full and dark with the promise of that fullness,
That time when one can no longer wander away
And even the least attentive fall silent
To watch the thing that is prepared to happen.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Places and memories

Certain places evoked memories of friendship. We have friends from Germany whose wedding anniversary almost coincides with ours. 3 years ago we visited together Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Cheri and I attempted to walk the Narrows in Zion National Park but did not reach the end. Cheri had a healing fracture of the right arm and on a sling and became too tired in the freezing waters of Virgin River. We had to go back. Our friends did not want to walk the freezing waters.

Bryce Canyon had all the splendor of a fairy land in June. Queen Graden's Trail offered an easy promenade even for Cheri. 

We did not miss the Grand Canyon. The awe and grandeur of the place always remain.

At another time our friends from Oregon visited Napa Valley and we viewed an orchid festival in San Francisco. Golden Gate Bridge appeared splendid even in a misty afternoon.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The ocean with its immensity

I finished Michael Ondaatje's The Can's Table. Ondaatje's sentences nimbled with the recollections of an eleven year old boy of his journey aboard a ship from Sri Lanka to England to be reunited with his mother. The anecdotes were interspaced with fragments of understanding after years of reflection of what those earlier experiences meant and how they affected his life and others. There were surprises. There were clarity and simplicity in expressions and tender affection for the characters.

They were children looking at the ocean with its power and immensity and seduction.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


The divine came down from heaven and dwelt among us. Innocence is here on earth. Purity of heart-we should seek it. We are given three essential virtues-faith, hope and love. It's written that the greatest of the three is love.

This month of December I'm reading more of spiritual matters particularly on prayers. From Thomas Merton: "Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. ..It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith.
...In other words, then, contemplation reaches out to the knowledge and even to the experience of the transcendent and inexpressive God....Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real. A vivid awareness of infinite Being at the roots of our own limited being. An awareness of our contingent reality as received, as a present from God, as a free gift of love." 
Merton wrote: "Our faith is given us not to see whether or not our neighbor is Christ but to recognize Christ in him and to help our love make both him and ourselves more fully Christ."

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Life of Our Lord

I am reading The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens which he wrote and read only to his family. Gerald Charles Dickens writes in the introduction-"My great-great-grandfather wrote The Life of Our Lord for a very special reason-he wrote it for his family. He wanted his children to learn about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in as plain and simple a way as possible, and he decided the best way to achieve that was to write it himself and give to his family as a gift." "...Read it as an honorary family member and draw from it the rich meaning that Charles Dickens intended when he first presented this gift to us."

Saturday, December 10, 2011


What is so incredible about the complexity of the universe is its simplicity. Imagination can be so vast yet can be so simple. My eyes can see a natural beauty yet there is a mystery that remains. One can sit on top of a rock and look out at a distance and contemplate about beauty. 

While I'm writing these lines I am listening to solo piano pieces from the radio called Whisperings. The photos were taken from the Garden of the Gods just outside Colorado Springs. We were passing through after  we attended a wedding in Beaver Creek.

I remembered looking at the landscape and I felt a certain serenity and joy. I would not be pretentious to say that it was an epiphany.  How could I  bring the feeling back when my thoughts reach the edge of being ungrateful at certain times? What's the secret? 

The shy and the bold

The birds flock to the pond near the community college. These 2 geese are separated from their group.
Some birds seek adventure; others fly in the zone of comfort. We are too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Inner monastery

I finished reading-The Abbey Up the Hill" by Carol Bonomo. She writes-chapter 73, Rule of St. Benedict: "We seek spiritual progress; rather than spiritual perfection." "...The Benedectines would call that conversatio mourum suorum-conversion of manners, a continuing and unsparing assessment and reassessment of one's self and what is important and valuable in life."

She writes further on:"It's about place, the place made within, the 'inner monastery' of obedience, silence, and listening that invites God to enter and shows true hospitality by making him welcome."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Insight meditation

Yesterday I walked to the gym and worked out for 40 minutes. Wandered through the downtown and then visited the library. Read a few books and selected 3 CD’s - Frank Sinatra, ABBA and Sarah McLachlan and borrowed Thomas Merton, A Life of Letters.
A slow walk home trying to be more aware of the surroundings.
Today I walked in the neighborhood and met a man at the river who was calling the ducks with his duck caller gadget. He told me he used it for calling ducks when he goes duck hunting. Today he was practicing. He even told me  he prepared duck instead of turkey for Thanksgiving. I also met a lady walking with 2 sister dogs, one with black fur and the other, brown. Different fathers with same mother she said.
December is cold and sometimes misty and bleak. It’s not coincidence that red and joyful colors decorate houses, hearth and trees and electric posts.
I don’t know how to do walking meditation. How about insight meditation?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A child and the universe

The earth does not argue, 
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements, 
Does not scream, haste, persuade, 
threaten, promise, 
Makes no discriminations, has no 
conceivable failures, 
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, 
shuts nothing out.
             Walt Whitman
A Song of the Rolling Earth

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

One of my favorite poems-Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens. A few lines:
Among the twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of a blackbird.

I don't know which to prefer
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

I know noble accents
And lucid inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Dovekeepers

2 days ago I started reading The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. The story is set in ancient Israel-the story of Masada. From the book's jacket: "In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. ...two women and 5 children survived." Alice Hoffman wrote a novel based on this heroic and tragic event of Jewish history. Today one can reach Masada by tram or by hiking a trail from the foot of the mountain. From the ruins one can see the Dead Sea.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


It's Sunday, the first day of advent.
The door is closed, street deserted. Grapes hang on the trellis across the whole span of the street.
Today I started reading a book,
With Burning Hearts, Meditation on the Eucharistic Life by Henri J.M. Nouwen, the book I just got from the Goodwill Store. The meditation starts with the The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

Nouwen introduces his essay: "The Eucharistic event reveals the deepest human experiences, those of sadness, attentiveness, invitation, intimacy, and engagement.It summarizes the life we are called to live in the name of God.Only when we realize the rich network of connections between the Eucharist and our life in the world can the Eucharist be 'worldly' and our life  'Eucharistic' ".

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The hike

The day after Thanksgiving we hiked the trail behind the condo. There was snow on the ground. Our grandkids were all energy, climbing boulders, sliding on the light snow. The creek that runs along the trail was melodiously loud. The veil like ice formations with lacy trims and some with hanging icicles covered some rocks and tree branches that hovered over the tiny falls on the creek. (Unfortunately my camera ran out of batteries before I could take some photos of the ice veils.) My son and his family returned to the condo after a short hike while my wife and I continued to climb the trail up and up the mountain until we could view the lake. The round trip took us 2 1/2 hours. The return was slow because of some patches of ice on the trail.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Olive Oil
Ancient.     Biblical.     Contemporary.
It’s healthy. It has an aura of pride 
and stands next to wine
on the culinary table..
Ancient.     Biblical.     Contemporary.
It’s not an ornament polished
 in the month of November,
 not a candle lighted on special occasions.
Gratitude is a virtue. I consider it a virtue.
Gratitude illuminates. It’s part of the soul.
Gratitude should be in everybody’s heart.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Used books

In almost any town I visit I look at the yellow pages for used bookstores.

There is a certain feel and look of an old used book that invite reading.
 Some readers underline and highlight, write comments on the margins. Others keep the pages pristine.
 Mortimer Adler (How to Read a Book) encourages readers to leave their marks.

What do the marks tell about the reader? Do they convey a message like the earliest discovered paintings in the cave?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Great Expectations

It's cold up here in the mountains. The grandkids trampled on the light snow on the deck. There is new forecast of snow on Wednesday.

I'm reading and enjoying Dickens's Great Expectations. On page 39: Joe addressing the convict-"We don't know what you have done, but we wouldn't have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creature." On page 62: "My sister's bringing up had made me sensitive.In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up,there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice." I didn't realize how funny Dickens could be and his keen eye for moral subtleties.

I'm sorry I' am clinging to the fall colors.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A time of reflection

We are leaving tomorrow to celebrate the Thanksgiving week up in the mountains.Last year we had lots of snow and driving was slightly dangerous.
(the photos were of last year's Thanksgiving week) I will enjoy the snow, hot cider and hot chocolates. And maybe a little wine. The joy will be the gathering of the family. The week will be a time of reflection, gratitude and silent prayers for peace in the world. A parting thought from the book The Little prince- "Goodbye," said the fox." And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Love letters

I had a classmate once who wrote a few lines about pomegranates which I have to paraphrase-

my hands hold a ripe pomegranate,

luscious and tender in my mouth,

the red sweetness drips

from my lips, colors

my thoughts lost

in the new white dress

I'm wearing.

Do we still write love letters,

pages of longing and affection?

Does a few tweets of luv u's

instead of a full-throated bird song

express an intimate love notes?

Friday, November 18, 2011

What is art?

Ruskin once wrote:"What is art but praise."

When my mind is crystal clear I like to frame a space

filled with colors

-a place where a couple on any afternoon

with the simplest French expression of baguette, cheese, and a bottle wine,

express with their eyes, thoughts,and gestures

caring and faith for each other.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books.

Our Rotary Club of North Napa has 2 community projects-Adopt-A-Highway and Adopt-A-Bike Trail. This morning 6 of our members picked up trash on a 2 mile stretch of Highway 29 in Napa Valley. I paused now and then to enjoy the vineyards and the hills. 4 weeks ago we did the bike trail.

The leaves on the vineyards and on the trees reflect the season. The air was cool and light clouds covered the sun.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Poetic imagination

I’m reading-How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move-subtitled- inside my autistic mind- by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay. The author is autistic, a “young man whose verbal expressive language is profoundly impaired but who communicates almost exclusively by independently writing or typing his thoughts and ideas on a computer.”

I am fascinated by his observations and experiences. “I believed that if you cared enough to listen, you could hear the sky and earth speaking to each other in the language of blue and brown.” He thinks in colors-voices of colors. Shadows caught his interest and he asked- “How would a shadow tell a story without having a color of its own?” He observed later on- “I could now imagine how a shadow could silence the interaction between other colors if those colors happened to fall within the territory of its silence.” He added many sentences later: “My boundary between imagining and experiencing something as a very delicate one.”

Life is a mystery. The mind is part of that mystery. Reading the author’s narration is like walking on one of the terraces of the mind. I find his observations beyond the ordinary, the familiar- with expressions uttered by a poetic imagination. And I’m only on page 22.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A deeper life

I finished reading the book-The Orchards of Perseverance-Conversations with Trappist Monks, About God, Their Lives and the World.

I want to highlight one particular monk who stayed for 20 months then decided to leave. He said: "I decided to leave. It's very intense life. It might seem very slow, very passive from the outside, but they live a much more intense and deeper life than-at least I think-we do on the outside...It's a humbling experience when you are allowed to be in the presence of God..."

"Basically what I do now is I leave aside a certain part of each day to meditate or enter into silent prayer...to pray without words-it's not a prayer of petition or thanksgiving, it's just to be present in that huge deep silence that is God...You realize that you are nobody. You are nothing. He is everything and you are nothing, and I think many people are afraid of that experience to feel that their name, their credit card number, phone number, all their achievements, their position at work-everything-is meaningless in the face of God...you are naked before Him."

The author noted that there is "absence of bliss or extended period of actual contact with God." But then..."such experiences aren't talked about, because it's more prudent to keep silent. We don't actively seek the experience, for that is vain glory if not upright pride." The monk who left said at the end..."the best we can do is offer people a glimpse... it's up to them to deepen that glimpse into a longer look or an observation."

It helps me understand a liitle bit of what life of prayer is. And what even a short meditation means or what it should be. Or what I should do if I want to experience a deeper life.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Monastic simplicity

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books.

These photosof Multnomah Falls were taken in 2009.

The leaves start changing colors and falling. It is a time for reflection on changes, transformation. I’m reading the Orchards of Perseverance, Conversations with Trappist Monks.

The author, David Perata, cited Thomas Merton who “outlined the prerequisites... for monks aspiring to spiritual life:

1.to recognize truth about himself-face his own false identity -means simplicity in the sense of sincerity, a frank awareness of one’s shortcomings

2.to overcome the temptation to excuse himself and to argue that he is not what he is-simplicity in the sense of meekness, ; self-effacement, humility

3.must strive to rid himself of everything that useless, unnecessary to his one big end: the recovery of Divine Image, and union with God. Simplicity takes on the sense of total and uncompromising mortification.

a) Of the lower appetites: hence, simplicity in food, clothing, dwellings, labor and manner of life

b) Of the interior sense and intellect-means simplicity in devotions, studies, methods of prayers...etc...

c)Of the will-the most important task of all.” It calls for obedience. Simplicity-”trustful obedience of a child to his father”. The obedience to the abbot branches out to charity towards the other monks.

There is a realization when the novice “begins to sift through his psyche and explore the region of his mind and soul, revealing that his true self is not at all what he perceived it to be...like a person suddenly stripped down to nothing as a result of a natural disaster like earthquake...”

This is the challenge of “conversion of manners or fidelity to monastic life... a conversion of the senses from the material world to the spiritual...it’s not simply an exchange of priorities....such a transformation cannot be willed into existence by sheer thought or determination.”

Merton’s advice can be a guide to change one’s life, to live a full life... can be my guide...the emphasis on simplicity...maybe not to the monk’s simplicity but a beginning simplicity. I can practice charity in many different ways. Charity in the sense of respect and love of the others, those who are different from we are.