Prayer as meditation

31
Mar
2008

I go twice weekly to drop-in meditation at the Centro Budismo here in Mexico City. Today for some reason there was a significantly larger number of people in attendance, many of them new. At one end of the room there is a small altar with a statue, small plants, candles and incense pot. Someone will usually light incense and make a small incantation of some sort before the meditation begins, but this is never really a group thing. I have never really cared much for these alter things, they smack too much of iconography, idol worship, what have you. For me the perfect meditation space is one that is completely empty and quiet. But to each their own.

In any event, just before the meditation was to begin with everyone in their places, one of the new participants (a woman in her late 40s I would imagine) wanted to ask the group leader a question.

Motioning to the alter, she asked if we were going to learn to pray. The leader was a little confused and asked if she meant “meditate” instead. She said no, she wanted to learn to pray in the correct way, in the Buddhist way, here in the center. The leader said that while there were certainly structured ways to show respect at the alter (pray, in her parlance) that this was a session devoted to meditation, and we would be practicing that instead. She nodded, and we proceeded with the meditation.

When I left, I began having flashbacks to all sorts of experiences I had while in India . They say there are many paths to yoga, a word which means nothing other than union. A union of mind, body and spirit, a connection to the divine or an understanding of the nature of existence and being at peace with it. For some, the path involves intense study and philosophy. For others the path to that experience is more physical and more visceral, using the physical forms that we are familiar with in the west, such as asanas and meditation, to achieve this union. For others the path of service and helping others is what brings them in touch with the universe. And for some, it is in devotion and prayer.

I have never been a prayer person, and I doubt that I will ever be. The very idea of focusing on some sort of idol or image and praying to it takes me far away indeed from any trancending experience. It is too physical, there is too much earthy baggage. I tend to do better connecting to an abstract, formless universe where everything everywhere is of equal weight, at least spiritually. I don’t believe in a diety of any sort. All existence is equally holy, and there is little use for me personally in the idea of god.

That said, I can totally understand how for other people the idea of prayer and connecting with a diety might be their way to peace. And in some ways prayer can be very much like meditation in practice, though the focus is different. I was fascinated by this woman in the meditation though, who felt she was there for that kind of experience. That for her, with whatever background or upbringing she had, prayer was the path, and the thing she was most interested in.

Interestingly, the more time I have spent in Mexico, the more similarities I have come to see between the Catholic imagery and iconography in the churches and cathedrals here and the iconography and worship of Hindu deities in India. Both religions have large sets of figures to worship. Both have rather vibrant physical representations of these figures. And both have imbued each of these dieties (or saints) with specific powers or areas of influence. Both religions encourage praying to specific figures for specific purposes. The more I look at Catholicism, (especially as practiced in this part of the world) the less I see it having anything to do with monotheism. Everything is an aspect of the divine I suppose, just like so many of the Hindu gods are ultimately traceable to a single spiritual force known as Brahman.

Short dessert sauce manifesto…Chico manifesto sobre la salsa dulce

28
Mar
2008

This is something that has been bothering me for quite some time, and it came up again tonight at dessert, at what was an otherwise excellent meal.  I consider myself somewhat of a foodie, and I can’t hold my tongue anymore.  The worst kind of atrocity is being perpetrated on poor chocolate lovers everywhere. It is a disgusting fad that seems have taken hold in the 90’s and continues to haunt chocolate desserts worldwide in unending horror since then. Let me be blunt: Raspberries and raspberry sauces HAVE NO BUSINESS anywhere near chocolate, whether it be cake, pie, torte or what-have-you.  They make for a truly disgusting combination, and the poor unwashed dinner masses have been duped into believing this combo is some sort of gastronomic shorthand for luxury.  Attention chef-hacks the world over: Stop the madness! Let chocolate be chocolate.

And be on notice, flavored coffee purveyors. You are next on my shit list.Hay algo que me molesta desde hace mucho tiempo, y vi un ejemplo otra vez esta noche con el postre. Me veo como algien que conoce comida, y no puedo calmarme más. Lo peor tipo de atrocidad esta perpetrado en la gente que le gusta el chocolate. Es un capricho horrible de los años 90s que continúa hasta la fecha. Déjeme ser fuerte: frambuesas y salsa de frambuesas NO DEBEN ESTAR de nigun manera cerca de chocolate. No importa si es pastel, torta, helado, o otra cosa. Juntos hacen una combinación de pesadilla. La pobre gente ha sido engañada a y llevada a creer que esta combinación es de lujo, pero es de basura.

My Blog, My Self

27
Mar
2008

This post is going to be very postmodern, very meta. Perhaps I am even breaking the fourth wall in a new way.  But my question for today is: what is this blog about?  What is its purpose? What do I want to get from it?

I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few weeks.  These questions are really a stand in for questions about life, aren’t they?  After a year and a half on this shake-up-my-life adventure, what am I looking for (in my blog)?

Below is a list of blog types.  Obviously a blog is not limited to just one of the following possibilities.  Many times a blog will be several (or all) of these things:

1. Blog as journal.  My blog is no more and no less than the record of the events of my life and the reflections on those events.  In this scenario, I have no “audience”, only a small set of voyeurs.  And whether or not anyone is listening is beside the point.  It isn’t necessarily about communication other than with myself. In a sense, this is one of the truest or cleanest art forms there is, outside the reach of criticism and commerce.

2. Blog as family and friends newsletter.  A lot of the time my blog has functioned thus, keeping friends (new and old) and family up to date on my whereabouts and allowing (via comments) limited conversation with them about topics of interest.

3. Blog as art. Sometimes I will post a photo I took that I particularly like, a short story, or odd idea.

4. Blog as soapbox. Occasionally, I will get up on my high horse to pontificate about this, that, or the other thing. I don’t feel the need to do this nearly as much as when I was younger, but it is satisfying from time to time.

5. Blog as aggregator. On other occasions, I will use the blog to link to some item of interest (to me) that I have found elsewhere on the internet. Commentary may or may not accompany the link.

6. Blog as self-promotion. This is a little more complicated and ties into larger concerns about the direction of my work life. Am I content to continue working in my former field(s)? Am I looking for something new that the blog points the way to, such as journalism, travel writing, photography, or book publishing? How can the blog aid me in this (these) endeavor(s)?

7. Blog as business.  A step beyond merely using the blog to self-promote and thus gain (paid) work, the blog itself can be a money making enterprise. With enough traffic, ads on the site could become significant revenue generation. The point here isn’t to make the blog a business as much as it is to be getting paid for what one likes to do. But this leads to an entire field of study concerning blog popularity.

What make a blog popular?  What is the definition of blog success?  Of course, there are many definitions of success, but if we are considering a blog’s ability to financially support its owner, it is a pretty easy one.  A blog is successful if it has a large audience (or I suppose a small but loyal audience with big bucks).

Which blogs are most successful (in the business/audience sense)?  The more I look around, the more it seems that the most popular blogs have a narrow focus or point of view.  That focus could be politics, humor, current events, technology, gadgets, food etc.  The reason that more narrowly focused blogs are generally the most successful is clear: They are always talking about the thing that the audience is interested in.  Blogs that cover a wide range of topics will very often lose the interest of certain groups when they talk about things that are not of interest to those groups.

A brief survey among a few readers of my blog has come up with fairly interesting responses about what interests them (and what bores them) in the blog:

1.  Some friends find the posts about differences in culture(s) or analysis of a local phenomenon the most interesting.

2.  Some find the minutiae of my life (like whether I hurt my foot) interesting, while others find it a bit unseemly and wish I would leave it out.

3.  Some find the travel writing and photos the most interesting.

4.  Some like the quirky ideas or funny stories.

5.  Some like the visual juxtapositions or pics of the day.

6.  Some people are interested in the food.

7.  Some people are interested in the spiritual journey, and others are turned off by it.

In any event, it is clear that not all readers of my blog necessarily care about (or care for) all the types of things I write about.  Such is life. Different people have different interests, and an audience can be composed of many different types of people.

So what kind of people, exactly, is my audience composed of?

1. The number one reason people read my blog is, well, because they know me personally. This gives them an interest in what I might be up to, and they can check the blog without the cost and hassle of getting me on the phone or having a conversation.

2. The second largest group are friends of friends and family. People that I don’t know personally, but who have been referred to the site by people I know.

3. The next largest number of readers are those that find me through a google (or other) search. Since I have been in a lot of places and have written about a ton of things, this happens quite often. Sometimes these people stay and become regular readers. Sometimes they just peruse the info that brought them here and then leave.

One interesting side effect of all the traveling I have done is the geographic diversity of readers. They are mostly concentrated in the places I have been (duh) but are really scattered through the world, on every continent except Antarctica.

So we get to the point of me trying to figure out what I want my blog to be when it grows up. Do I need my blog to grow up? What will I lose by editing out certain things? Is it important to update as often as I do, or does the quality suffer? Would I and my audience be better served by fewer, but higher quality posts? Should I care about a larger audience? Should I just keep doing exactly as I have been?

If you have bothered to read this far, I want your feedback. What do you think about all this? If you are too shy to post a public comment, how about sending me a private email? I would really appreciate it.

RemoteAlejado

26
Mar
2008

I am out and about. I had to get out of the house, this Waiting for Godot bullshit (the imminent, but ever elusive arrival of my replacement bankcard, which at last word from my bank is now due to arrive tomorrow) gets tiring. I just finished a pretty good sandwich at Frutos Prohibidos, and am now enjoying a leisurely licuado on the sidewalk outside.Estoy fuera de casa. Tenia que salir, no puedo soportar mas esta mierda de “Esperando a Godot” (la ultima noticia de mi banco es que mi tarjeta llegará mañana). Acabo de comer una torta en Frutos Prohibidos, y ahora estoy disfrutando de un licuado en la terraza del restaurante.

Updated: WaMu sucks. Friends are great.

24
Mar
2008

Ten minutes ago the FedEx guy knocks on my door with the replacement bankcard that WaMu told me this morning was misprocessed and never went out.  Not being one to hold a grudge and happy to have the card, I tried to activate it, but alas, they canceled it this morning in favor of the new one that will be here “in two days” (right). When I called them they said, “sorry”, but offered no other help. Ugh.

On the other hand, this has really shown me how sweet my freinds can be. George gave me a little money last week to tide me over, and Rocco did the same today. In addition, Gerardo offered to loan me as well. These guys give me the warm fuzzies. Thanks!

Bread and WaterPan y Agua

24
Mar
2008

That’s about all I am going to have for the next few days. I am pretty pissed off at WaMu right now. After losing my card over a week ago, I called them to get an emergency replacement. I spent about an hour on the phone with them making sure everything was in order, and they promised I would have my replacement card in two business days (which should have been last Tuesday). Tuesday came and went. So did Wednesday. After several more calls to them throughout the week and longer estimates quoted (mysteriously morphing into 3-5 business days), I was still without my card this morning when I called them yet again. Several back and forth calls today, and I finally get word that the order was “incorrectly processed” and so they will have to do it again. But I should have my card in “two business days”. I am not so happy at the moment.Esto es mas o menos todo lo que voy a tener para comer en los próximos días. No estoy muy feliz en este momento con mi banco. Después de perder mi tarjeta hace ocho días, llamé al banco para tener una reemplazo rápido. Pasé una hora en el teléfono con ellos para cerciorarme que tuvieran toda la información, y me prometieron que recibiría mi tarjeta en dos días (eso fue el martes de la semana pasada). Después el martes y el miércoles, llamé varias veces y me dieron estimaciones del tiempo más largas (3-5 días). Estaba todavía sin tarjeta esta mañana cuando los llamé otra vez. Finalmente me dijeron que la orden original tenía un error, y fue necesario hacerla de nuevo. Me aseguran que tendré mi tarjeta “en dos días”. No estoy muy feliz en este momento.