It’s a Major Award!

I have just received a Major Award! For meritorious service, I have just been awarded The Golden Bedpan! No gold watch for me – an honest-to-god Golden Bedpan! (miniature facsimile.) 24k over pewter. Had I known I would receive this, I’d have retired sooner!

How does it feel to want?

I used to manage a housing project. As part of that job I supervised a maintenance crew, since I couldn’t do everything myself. I would get there early, check the maintenance requests that had come in overnight, balance those with the ongoing maintenance that was due, and any projects we had working. When Tom came in to work, I’d say, “I want you to…” and name a job.

Tom would reply, “How does it feel to want?” On the surface, this was me giving him a job for the day and him giving me shit in return. But what was below the surface? When I asked, this truly was what I wanted. As a human being, he had autonomy and could say no. We could talk about all of the work that needed doing, or something he had noticed the day before. We could have had that conversation first, in which I laid out all the work for the day and we chose together. He also was used to a boss who gave orders, not one who stated wants. Ultimately, he could refuse (whether an order or a want). Ultimately, I could fire him. He wanted the job and I wanted a staff I could count on, so we worked it out each day.

But on another level, he was offering me a spiritual/ontological lesson. I could actually take him up on the offer and feel what it was to want. I wasn’t paying him for that. It was a bonus.

There was someone else I was paying for that. We’ll get into that soon. So what is it to want? One meaning of want is to lack. Another meaning is to desire. If we smash those meanings together, we get desiring what we don’t have.

The Buddha taught that all life is suffering and all suffering arises from desire. Chew on that a bit. A lot of us will chafe at the notion that all life is suffering and insist we are happy. Buddha didn’t demand that we believe him. He demanded that we experience for ourselves. To get that suffering arises from desire might be a little easier but even that might get you thinking about how much pleasure you get from wanting something, planning and saving for it.

We bring a lot of passion to the quest. Passion comes from a Latin word which means “to suffer”. [It’s now a small leap to recognize that compassion means “to suffer with”. That’s a topic for another day.] So you want something. Depending on your personality, maybe you rush out and buy it. Maybe you read Consumer Reports and product reviews. Maybe you go try it out or compare different options. Maybe you save money for a long time, or maybe you just go into debt.

Now you have the thing. Then what? You go onto the next thing to want. My teacher asked us to consider the possibility of wanting exactly what we have. I suggested this to someone recently and they said “You can’t really ‘desire’ what you have though you can desire to maintain it. You CAN be content with it.”

Notice that there isn’t a lot of “juice” in contentment – it’s nothing like wanting, desiring, pining for, coveting. What if my friend is wrong? What if you can want what you have? What if you can bring the same intensity of experience to what is, as you can to what isn’t? Wouldn’t you suffer a whole lot less? Try it some time. (I’ll wait. Let me know how it goes.) Want what you have, not what you lack. See if it’s possible. See how you feel.

We like to complain about what we “have to” do. How would the experience change if we thought of it as what we “want to” do? You might object and say that is lying. But is it? When we make a choice, there is always at least one alternative. Let’s say I told Tom to trim the hedge. He could say he “has to” trim the hedge. He could also say he “wants to” trim the hedge. What is the alternative to trimming the hedge? Obviously, not trimming it. What are the consequences of not trimming it? The hedge doesn’t get trimmed, people get upset because the property looks run down. Someone else trims the hedge and resents Tom for not doing it. I fire Tom and he is out of a job and has no income. There are certainly others. But Tom has chosen to trim the hedge rather than accept the consequences of not doing so. He wants to trim the hedge more than he wants the consequences. How would the experience be different if it started with wanting to trim the hedge?

Mr Natural tries wanting to do the dishes

Top of the World!

Sunday’s ride with the Bombay Bicycle Club included the “Alpe d’ Huez option”. While that is a considerable exaggeration, it did include 3 consecutive climbs over a ridge in the driftless area.

A horse camp for kids at the top of the first climb (PS I was a counselor here 50+ years ago)
My kinda road!

After picking someone up at the airport, I hit the road an hour after the group left, so I didn’t see anyone. The forecast said warm, windy, and cloudy. There was no mention of rain. Twenty miles in, the sky to the north looked ominous. The radar showed it moving southwest to northeast and that it would miss me entirely, just giving some dark sky to watch. The wind was strong out of the south, so that seemed like a safe bet. Thirty-some miles in, it started to rain. There was no cell service, so I had only the sky to go by, not radar or a revised forecast. It was cooling down. With no access to a map, I guessed on a shortcut. It turned out to be more of a detour than a shortcut, only cutting 1.5 miles from the total ride. The good news is that it cut some descents that would be hazardous in the rain. The bad news is that it cut a couple of favorite climbs, substituting straight and flat miles in the valley.

One of the climbs I missed out on Sunday

If you could have dinner…

with any person, living or dead, who would that be? The last time I addressed this question, I chose Donald Trump – dead. While cleaning our adopted highway today, I gave the matter more thought.

My favorite spot from a few feet further back, so you can’t see the road – but that’s our adopted highway just beyond the framing trees.

Another version of this posits it as a dinner party, allowing you to invite more than one person. Two of my heroes died recently, so I started with them.

Ernesto Cardenal – poet, priest, mystic, revolutionary (1925-2020). In Hora Cero (Zero Hour), he addressed the assassination of Augusto Cesar Sandino. In Cántico Cósmico (Cosmic Canticle), he addressed the history of the universe in 581 pages of verse, beginning with the Big Bang. If you think about it, that in itself is revolutionary – a Roman Catholic priest acknowledging that the universe was not created in 6 days by a god, but evolved and continues to do so. He also wrote shorter works (Epigramas and Salmos – Epigrams and Psalms). Among my favorites is this (written pre-ordination):

 Ésta será mi venganza:
Que un día llegue a tus manos el libro de un poeta famoso
y leas estas líneas que el autor escribió para ti
y tú no los sepas.

My own translation:

This will be my revenge:
That one day a book by a famous poet will come into your hands
and you will read these lines the author wrote for you
and you won’t know them.

He studied at the Gesthemani monastery in KY with Father Thomas Merton. He founded the peasant contemplative community Solentiname on an island in Lake Nicaragua. He served as the Minister of Culture in the Sandinista government. He left the government and the party when it was taken over by Daniel Ortega and ceased to be a revolutionary movement.

Image from Commonweal Magazine

Robert Marchand – bicyclist, logger, firefighter, trucker, union member, communist (1911-2021). He worked on three continents. In his youth he wanted to race bikes. At age 22 his coach talked him out of it because he was too small (5 feet, 115 pounds), so he became a gymnast and boxer. As a cyclist in 1946, he finished 7th in the Grand Prix de Nations, the unofficial world time trial championship (later won by such luminaries as Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil [9 times], and Bernard Hinault [5 times]). At 81 he rode from Paris to Moscow. At 100 he set the 100km record for the over 100 age group and at age 102 he broke his own record. At age 106 he set the hour record in the over 105 age group and rode his last race in 2018. I hope to break that record. It may be my first race.

Francis Hole – Agronomist, Quaker, conscientious objector (1913-2002). For a local angle, I added Professor Hole. As a soil scientist (agronomist) he was responsible for Wisconsin adopting a State Soil (Antigo silt loam – the soil responsible for the potato industry of central Wisconsin, but also providing sustenance to our pine forests). He completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology and Biology (Earlham College), a Master’s in French (Haverford College), and a PhD in Soil Science (University of Wisconsin). He was a conscientious objector in WW II and did alternative service clearing trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. He also served as my draft counselor and he played the violin. He signed his name Francis Hole, TNS (Temporarily Not Soil).

Giulio Girardi – Priest, philosopher, professor of metaphysics (1926-2012). Girardi is is the author of Sandinismo, marxismo, cristianismo: la confluencia (1987). You can probably translate that into English yourself. Written in Italian, a Spanish translation followed quickly. To the best of my knowledge it has not been published in English. The book helped shape my thinking and understanding when I worked in Nicaragua. Girardi compared the teachings of Jesus with the teachings of Marx and Sandino, asserting that putting the teachings of Christ into action on a societal level is the aim of a Marxist/Sandinist system and that we need to live in a Christ-like way individually in order to do so as a society. (I am paraphrasing some 35 years after reading.) I (very) briefly worked on a response: Sandinismo, marxismo, buddhismo: la confluencia. I compared the Marxist/Sandinist concept of the “new person”, with the Buddhist experience of the four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Image from El Nuevo Diario

Marxism/Sandinism recognized that transforming society requires more than transforming government. We have to think and interact differently if we are going to form a truly egalitarian and inclusive society. We cannot be free of oppression until we learn not to oppress others and how to live without oppression. Buddha experienced that (my wording):
1) All life is suffering.
2) Suffering arises from desire.
3) To end suffering requires letting go of desire.
4) This is possible.
People tend to rebel at this, insisting that they lead a happy life. Another way to look at this is that we spend life chasing after things we want and avoiding things that we don’t want. We might call the first “pleasure” and the second “pain”. But is pursuing pleasure the same as experiencing it?
He posited the Eightfold Path to let go of desire. Briefly, this is:
1) Right Understanding,
2) Right Thought,
3) Right Speech,
4) Right Action,
5) Right Livelihood,
6) Right Effort,
7) Right Mindfulness and
8) Right Concentration.
This was to be a book, not a blog entry, so I will leave it at this. It is not enough to want to be a “good person”. Transforming self and transforming society, require actual transformation, not just incremental change. Why do you think they call it revolution?

This was one of two dinner parties I thought of that day. The other will follow. How about you? Who would you choose to talk with, if it could be anyone from any time?

[Addendum: While reading someone else‘s blog, I thought about another person to add to the mix. My recently-retired State Senator, Fred Risser, was the longest-serving legislator in US history. He was first elected in 1956 and retired in 2020. He authored the state’s “Clean Indoor Air Act”, which restricted indoor smoking. In an expansion of the “Wisconsin Idea” he authored a bill to allow those over the age of 60 to take university courses free of charge. He annually rode his age for his birthday. Here is an excerpt from his 2018 press release: “State Senator Fred Risser, who turned 91 years old May 5th, said that on Thursday, May 17th, he had completed his annual ritual of biking his age in a single day. Risser said he started his 91-mile biking trip at 7:15am at the State Capitol and returned at 6:15pm after an 11-hour ride, stopping only for lunch and rest breaks.”]