23 May 2007

Just passing it on...

A Naked Man, A Blow Torch, And One Fine Motorcycle

Legal Juice

Dude really wanted the motorcycle, so he came equipped - with a blow torch, gas cannisters, a screwdriver and a claw hammer. Problem was, he was a little bit to loud. The homeowner's 4-year-old son heard some noise, and woke his dad. So dad chased him down the street, then realized he was buck naked. By then the would-be thief was well on his way - without his tools or the motorcycle, though he had managed to melt the lock on the motorcycle.

Neighbors had seen a man with a dark jacket and gloves (see police artist sketch below) dragging a wheelie bin through the neighborhood, looking around to see if he was being watched. Hmmmmmm. If you have any information on this crime, call the South Wales Police at 029 2022 2111 (collect!). (You can read the entire story here.)

Broken Dreams

Broken Dreams

There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But perhaps some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.
For your sole sake--that all heart's ache have known,
And given to others all heart's ache,
From meagre girlhood's putting on
Burdensome beauty--for your sole sake
Heaven has put away the stroke of her doom,
So great her portion in that peace you make
By merely walking in a room.

Your beauty can leave among us
Vague memories, nothing but memories.
A young man when the old men are done talking
Will say to an old man, "Tell me of that lady
The poet stubborn with his passion sang us
When age might well have chilled his blood."

Vague memories, nothing but memories,
But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed.
The certainty that I shall see that lady
Leaning or standing or walking
In the first loveliness of womanhood,
And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,
Has set me muttering like a fool.

You are more beautiful than any one
And yet your body had a flaw:
Your small hands were not beautiful,
And I am afraid that you will run
And paddle to the wrist
In that mysterious, always brimming lake
Where those that have obeyed the holy law
Paddle and are perfect; leave unchanged
The hands that I have kissed
For old sake's sake.

The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air:
Vague memories, nothing but memories.

~William Butler Yeats, Easter 1916 and Other Poems

22 May 2007

Invocation to the Dawn

Look to this day, for it is Life, the very life of Life;
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence...
the bliss of Growth, the glory of Action, the splendour of Beauty.

For Yesterday is but a dream,
and Tomorrow only a vision;
But Today well lived makes Yesterday a dream of Happiness
and Tomorrow a vision of Hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.
Such is the salutation to the Dawn.

- Kálidása

21 May 2007

Not One More Sparrow


On a silent retreat, the author cleared his mind enough to open his heart--and help out some small, winged beings.
By James Kullander

Halfway through a two-week retreat at a remote Buddhist monastery in Nova Scotia, I was startled awake by a thud on my tiny cabin’s picture window, and then a softer dunk on the deck below. It had been a quiet week. I’d not talked to anyone and no one had talked to me.

To reach the cabin I had to walk down a long path through a dark gauntlet of hemlocks, their roots pushing up from the earth like bones in a shallow grave. The cabin, aptly called Cliffhanger, is perched high over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I stood at the door, uneasily gazing through a window in the opposite wall, a postcard of deep blue open water and the vast curve of the earth. The veteran nun in burgundy cotton robes and green rubber muck boots who’d escorted me here assured me in a low voice punctuated with a mischievous chuckle that the place would not blow away, even though, in a gale, the walls might shake. Then she left me.

Now, as I twisted around in the hard, narrow bed and squinted into the dawn, I knew, sadly, those two sounds like the words to a bad song stuck in my head. It was the second time since I’d arrived that a bird had crashed into the window. The first time, the bird stood on the deck, stunned and shaken, but alive; I watched it pull itself together and fly away. I was relieved. But this time the bird, a sparrow, remained on its side, motionless. Suddenly, I was filled with a great sadness.

My longing for solitude and silence baffles most people I know, but I’d been on retreats like this many times before at Buddhist and Christian monasteries. I don’t wear a crucifix around my neck or beads on my wrist. I’ve taken no vows. It’s just that there are times when I want to be silent and in a spiritual community that aspires to more than what Shakespeare called “this mortal coil.” The point of it for me is to stop running and dodging the stuff I am made of; to sit still and take in the fullness of who I really am. I remember in seminary learning how the search for self and the search for God, the 4th-century Christian St. Augustine believed, are one and the same because your truest, most complete self is written in God’s memory. That has always made sense to me.

The search is a meaningful one because the only way any of us is going to be really happy and of any genuine help is, as founder of this abbey, Chögyam Trungpa says, if we "discover what inherently we have to offer the world.” To find out who I am and what I can offer the world I sometimes need to get away from the world, and I like what I find: I am not so quick to anger, easily annoyed, or frequently critical. In Buddhism, it is believed this sense of clarity comes from stilling the mind; it is compared to clear water after the sediment settles.

It was late summer in the Canadian Maritimes—warm days and chilly, sometimes stormy nights. Scents of sodden leaves and stubbled fields filled the air and the sun went down a little earlier each day as summer slipped into fall. After a few days and nights at the abbey as the familiar drone of my daily grind diminished, I began to notice the wildlife all around me. Suddenly, in fact, I was seeing more wildlife than I ever had. I was delighted.

I stood in awe as schools of a dozen or more pilot whales churned by in the changeable waters of the gulf just a few hundred yards away. A bald eagle soared over the cabin’s tin roof. I almost ducked; if I’d been outside I’m sure I could have heard its wings slice the sky. Flocks of ravens traced the lines of an invisible rollercoaster as they rode the thermals above the cliff.

One morning while I was meditating on the deck, four hummingbirds, one after the next, came to draw nectar from the wildflowers nearby. One hovered a couple feet from my face for a few seconds as if to say hello. A small red squirrel scampered on the cabin roof to toss a big, stale dinner roll (scrounged from the abbey’s composting pile) onto the deck in a barely successful attempt to break it into smaller pieces to stash in a small hole in the ground nearby. I had to laugh. Animals, not people, became my companions. I began to befriend them in ways I never imagined.

Back at my home in upstate New York several months before, I was getting ready to leave for another hectic day at the office when a bird crashed into my big kitchen window, and it seemed like just another upsetting event among many. What’s the death of a bird compared to the thousands of people slaughtered in Darfur or blown to bits in Iraq? Or even, I’m sad to say, everything on my to-do list? The bird flew away and I thought nothing of the fact that it could have died. I felt much the same when the first bird hit the abbey’s cabin window. I’d just arrived and I was thinking about the many things I always think about. My thoughts seemed like, as I read on a bulletin board in the monastery a few days later to describe our frequent state of mind, bees trapped in a jar.
But days later when a second bird crashed and died, it was not just another event I could so easily ignore. My mind was clear and open enough to see that it was a big deal. I shuffled outside and mourned its passing. I gazed at the tiny dead bird, my head down in an attitude of prayer, as the wind ruffled its feathers. The Gospels remind us that not one sparrow is forgotten in God’s sight. This one had not gone unnoticed by me either. I found a shovel leaning against the cabin, scooped up the sparrow, and gave it a proper sea burial: I flung it over the cliff, and down it went in a wingless arc into the white swells detonating on the boulders of the Canadian Shield below.

But that was not the end of it for me. I began to see again how removing myself from human contact like this, ironically, attunes me to the shared plight of humanity—and all of existence, for that matter. There’s no other way to explain it other than that I feel a certain connection to the world that reminds me that I am not really alone in the ways all of us suffer in our lives.

And as I sit cross-legged on my cushion in relative comfort, I find myself haunted by waves of recrimination. Innumerable noble causes and people to whom I can give my attention arise phantom-like in my mind. The pathology of a frequently divisive and violent world hollering at me, now seen at distance, strikes deep into the heart of me. At the same time I feel helpless as I think about all the people—and our planet itself—in such dire straits. There were times when I could almost hear at night a collective groaning of grief gusting in the treetops. How can I possibly stop the wind?

In Buddhism, however, you learn to deal with what’s in front of you. And what I could do in that place and at that time was to try to prevent any more birds from the fate of that sparrow. On the inside of the big pane I put up a half dozen pink Post-It notes like small warning flags: Stay away. It worked; no more birds flew into the window for the remainder of my time there. I was relieved.

When my retreat was over, I told the abbey’s director what had happened. He said there were semi-transparent decals that look like spider webs in a large window of another cabin on the grounds that deter birds from flying into the glass. He made a note to add them to Cliffhanger. We thanked each other. And the birds, I noted to myself, thanked us both. When I returned home I was shocked to learn from the Cornell University Ornithology Lab website that an estimated 100 million birds die every year by colliding with windows. "These collisions usually involve small songbirds, such as finches, that may fall unnoticed to the ground,” read the site. I put two spiderweb decals on the big kitchen window of my house, too.

It was a small thing, putting up those Post-It notes and spider web decals, at least compared to what else needs saving in the world. But one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Pema Chödrön, suggests that to make the world a more humane place, you start where you are. That’s what I did, and to the birds whose lives may now be spared, that’s huge. I’ll admit that I am often still quick to anger, easily annoyed, and frequently critical—no matter how many retreats I go on. But I do try to remember now that it often takes so little to help so much.

Angels offer 'unconditional love' – they set no rules, no standards to be fulfilled. Angels are here for us this instant, loving and guiding, giving us the support we need to move onwards and upwards towards spiritual enlightenment.
-Margaret Neylon

Serenity in the Sea


One young man stood outside during a wild storm, despairing over his life, when something glinted in the sand...
By Arthur Gordon

Some people in this world have a marvelous gift. It’s hard to say exactly what this quality is: a serenity, an inner strength, a generosity of spirit. Whatever it is, when you’re in trouble, or have some aching problem, you turn to these people instinctively. Something in them draws you like a magnet. I have a friend like that. So, the other night, when something was weighing on my mind, I telephoned him.

“Come on over,” he said. “Alma’s gone to bed, and I was about to heat up some coffee.”

So I went over, and at the end of an hour—just as I knew I would—I felt a lot better. The problem was still there, but somehow it didn’t seem so frightening. Not with Ken sitting in his old swivel chair, feet up on the desk, hands locked behind his head, not saying much, just listening...and caring.

Suddenly the gratitude and affection I felt seemed to need expression. “Ken,” I said, “when it comes to smoothing out wrinkles in troubled minds, you’re wonderful. How do you do it?”

He has a slow smile that seems to start in his eyes. “Well,” he said, “I’m a good deal older than you.”

I shook my head. “Age has nothing to do with it. There’s a calmness in you that goes very deep. Where did you get it?”

He looked at me pensively for a few seconds, as if trying to make up his mind whether to tell me something. Finally, with the toe of his shoe, he pulled open one of the desk drawers. From it he took a small cardboard box. He put it on the blotter. “If I do have any of this quality you’re talking about,” he said, “it probably comes from this.”

I waited. On the mantel a clock ticked.

Ken picked up one of his blackened pipes and began to load it. “You’ve known me for...how long? ten years? twelve? This box is a lot older than that. I’ve had it more than thirty years. Alma is the only other person who knows what’s in it, and maybe she has forgotten. But I take it out and look at it now and then.”

The match flared; the smoke curled, blue and reflective, in the lamplight. “Back in the ’20s,” Ken said in a faraway voice, “I was a successful young man in New York. Successful as hell. I made money fast and spent it faster. I was the golden boy, able to outthink or outdrink anybody. I married Alma because she was pretty and decorative, but I don’t think I loved her. I don’t think there was any love in me, really. The closest thing to it was the very high regard that I had—for myself.”

I stared at him in amazement. I found it almost impossible to believe this brutal self-portrait.

“Well,” said Ken, “as you’ve probably anticipated, the day of reckoning came. And it was quite a day. It’s hard for people who didn’t go through the Wall Street crash to know what it was like. One week I was a millionaire—on paper, anyway. The next I was a pauper. My reaction was predictable: I got drunk and stayed drunk for three days.”

He gave a short bark of a laugh and stood up, running a hand through his wiry hair. “The place I chose for this little orgy of self-pity was a beach cottage that we owned—or, rather, had owned before the bottom fell out of our gilded cage. Alma wanted to come with me, but I wouldn’t let her. I just wanted to get away from everything and drink myself blind, and I did.

“But the time comes when you begin to sober up. For an alcoholic—and I was close to being one—this can be a ghastly experience. You’re overwhelmed with self-disgust; you’re choked with despair. I looked at my face in the mirror, the bloodshot eyes, the three-day beard, and knew I was looking at a total failure. As a man, as a husband, as a human being, I had made a complete mess of my life. The thought—no, it wasn’t a thought, it was a conviction—the conviction came to me that the best thing I could do for Alma and for everyone else would be to remove myself from the scene, permanently.

“I knew, moreover, just how to do it. A half gale was blowing outside. The sea was wild. I would swim out as far as I could, past the point of no return. That would take care of everything.”

Ken’s pipe had gone out; he put it on the desk. The old chair creaked as he sat down. “When you’re driven to a decision like that, your one thought is to get it over with. So I wasted no time. I stumbled down the porch steps and onto the beach. It was just after dawn, I remember; the sky was red and angry; the waves were furious. I walked straight to the edge of the water. As I reached it, something glinted on the sand.” He opened the box. “This.”

In the box was a shell. Not a particularly unusual shell; I had seen others like it. A narrow oval of fluted calcium, pale, graceful, delicate.

“I stood there staring at it,” Ken went on. “Finally I picked it up, wet and glistening. It was so fragile that the least pressure of my fingers would have crushed it. Yet here it was, undamaged, perfect.

“How was this possible? The question seemed to seize upon my mind, while all around me the wind shrieked and the ocean roared. Tons of seething water had flung this shell on the hard-packed sand. It should have been smashed to splinters, utterly destroyed. But it wasn’t.

“What had kept the shell intact, unbroken? I kept asking myself this question with a kind of frantic urgency—and suddenly I knew. It had yielded itself to the awful forces crashing around it. It had accepted the storm just as it had accepted the stillness of the depths where it had had its beginnings. And it had survived.

“I don’t know how long I stood there, but finally, when I turned away from the sea, I took the shell with me. I’ve had it ever since.”

I took the box from my friend and lifted out the shell. It lay in my hand, untouched by the years, exquisitely wrought, featherlight. “Do you know its name?” I asked.

Ken smiled that slow smile of his. “Yes,” he said. “They call it an angel’s wing.”

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

- William Butler Yeats

14 May 2007

Mother (Committee)

I am the One who nurtures.
I am the One who loves without cause or condition.

I give you the ability to love until it hurts and then to love more than you thought you ever could.
I give you the joy and satisfaction of giving yourself over to another for their betterment.

I want you to nurture yourself as well as you nurture others.
I want you to blossom along with your own blossoming children.

Child in the Woman (Committee)

I am the One who remembers the dreams of my childhood.
I am the One who is now living the dream.
I am the One still waiting for the dance to begin.

I give you the ability to see how far your dreams have taken you and how far you've yet to go.

I want you to rekindle those dreams of your youth and to reaffirm the dreams of your present.
I want you to acknowlege the girl who still lives inside you and the woman you've become.

You will remember when you dance with your inner child and pointe your toes toward those lofty goals that you dared to dream so long ago.

Working Woman (Committee)

I am the One who works for a living.
I am the One who is just a cog in a wheel.
I am the One who scales the corporate ladder only to reach a glass ceiling.
I am the One who is constantly looking over my shoulder

I give you the sweat of my brow.
I give you my all from 9 to 5, but I won't give up my soul.

I want you to see me as a human being with a soul and not as a robot under your control. I want you to treat me with the respect I deserve.

Sparklehorse Spin

Sparklehorse Spin

Source of all good!

Source of All Good

Day by day are thy blessings renewed to us; and again we come with thankful hearts to seek the sense of thy presence. O that we could be reborn like the morning, and our love rise as fresh as the dawn, and our obedience be as sure as the path of the sun.

For even as we seek to commune with thee, shadows from our past dim the joy of our aspiration. We remember our thoughtless lives, our impatient tempers, our selfish aims; and yet we know that thou has neither made us blind like the creatures that have no sin, nor left us without holy guidance--thy still, small voice speaking in our inmost conscience and thine open word, having dwelt among us full of grace and truth, appealing to us to choose the better part.

Take us now to serve thee in newness of spirit, and sweep away with a holy breath every dust of care, every trace of fear, every taint of an uncharitable mind.

- James Martineau

10 May 2007

Om Guru

Sri Yukteswar Giri

May 10, 1855 - March 9, 1936

To keep company with the guru is not only to be in his physical presence (as this is sometimes impossible), but mainly means to keep him in our hearts and to be one with him in principle and to attune ourselves with him.
~ Swami Sri Yukteswar, "The Holy Science"

09 May 2007


From the Washington Post Style Invitation, in which it was postulated that English should have male and female nouns and readers were asked to assign a gender to nouns of their choice and explain their reason.

The best submissions:

SWISS ARMY KNIFE -- male, because even though it appears useful for a wide variety of work, it spends most of its time just opening bottles.

KIDNEYS -- female, because they always go to the bathroom in pairs.

PENLIGHT -- male, because it can be turned on very easily, but isn't very bright.

TIRE -- male, because it goes bald and often is over-inflated.

HOT AIR BALLOON: male, because to get it to go anywhere you have to light a fire under it...and, of course, there's the hot air part.

SPONGES -- female, because they are soft and squeezable and retain water.

WEB PAGE -- female, because it is always getting hit on.

SHOE -- male, because it is usually unpolished, with its tongue hanging out.

COPIER -- female, because once turned off, it takes a while to warm up. Because it is an effective reproductive device when the right buttons are pushed. Because it can wreak havoc when the wrong buttons are pushed.

ZIPLOC BAGS -- male, because they hold everything in, but you can always see right through them.

SUBWAY -- male, because it uses the same old lines to pick people up.

HOURGLASS -- female, because over time, the weight shifts to the bottom.

~from Jest-A-Day Journal

Morning Prayer

Dear Lord,
So far I've done all right.
I haven't gossipped,
haven't lost my temper,
haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
I'm really glad about that.

But in a few minutes, God,
I'm going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I'm going to need a lot more help.

- Author Unknown

Welsh Hindus fight to save sacred bull

By Avril Ormsby

LONDON (Reuters) - Hindus in west Wales are fighting to save Shabo, a sacred bull, from slaughter after it tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.

Followers at the Skanda Vale temple in Llanpumsaint, Carmarthen, are considering forming a human chain in an attempt to save the temple bull from the abattoir, and have launched a petition on their Web site.

Appeals to the Welsh Assembly and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs have failed, and a notice of intended slaughter has been issued.

The Hindu order at Skanda Vale, the Community of the Many Names of God, said in a statement: "If we were to permit DEFRA to kill Shambo it would be an appalling desecration of life, the sanctity of our temples and Hinduism as a whole.

"We could no more allow the slaughter of Shambo than we could the killing of a human being. Ultimately, we will be willing to defend his life with our own."

Swami Suryananda, a senior monk at the monastery, said the issue had "galvanised" Hindus.

"Shambo is a healthy animal, and we hope we can find a third way with the assembly and DEFRA to save him," he told Reuters.

The current policy of DEFRA is to slaughter any animal that tests positive for the disease, although it said in this particular case it was an issue for the Welsh Assembly.

A spokeswoman for the assembly said: "We fully understand that this can be distressing for the owners, but these measures are in place to protect public health and animal health and prevent the further spread of the disease."

The Welsh branch of the National Farmers' Union, NFU Cymru, said it had "every sympathy" for the trauma the Hindu religious order must be going through "as many other livestock farmers in the area have already suffered a similar fate".

But it went on to say that "regrettably a holistic approach to the eradication of this disease is essential if we are to stop the spread of TB".

The temple, which has taken legal advice, has argued that vaccination and isolation can prevent the disease from spreading to other cattle and humans. The animal will never enter the food chain, it added.

In the meantime, the community, has constructed a special shrine within its main temple for six-year-old Shambo.

About 90,000 pilgrims a year visit the multi-faith monastery.

Suryananda said agricultural officials intend to start discussing Shambo's fate on May 14, with his possible slaughter taking place the following week.

07 May 2007

What John William Waterhouse Painting Am I?

What John William Waterhouse Painting Are You?

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Ain't Life Grand!

I love Mary Engelbreit's artwork. And I love this too.