Friday, July 28, 2006


At the risk of boring the internet community stupid here are some pictures of my everyday life. This is reality for me. I'm cautious about posting details of my releationships with other people and emotional life so it's all practical stuff. To what extent are my abstract musings an escape from this reality?

An empty skip - boring? Not to me.

Not bad for an evening's work

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My Japanese Garden #1

This is a photo of the garden I took just before we bought the property. Nearly half of it is covered in a concrete patio. The rest of it is patchy, overgrown lawn. If I had realised that the concrete was 6 inches + thick I might have thought twice about removing it, but it's ugly as hell - what were they thinking?

This is just the top layer of concrete - the second layer was slightly thinner.

I've been doing bits and pieces for a couple of month now, chopping down trees, getting rid of piles of rubble at the far end and so on, but now it was time to tackle The Big One - the patio - and my lump hammer just wasn't up to the task. So at the weekend I hired a skip and a pneumatic drill and I broke it all up. Unfortunately, it's not called a mini skip for nothing and I filled it up in no time. So I got another one today. This is how the garden looked earlier today - this must be its lowest point in terms of immediate appearance - the Beirut look.

I removed the vast bulk of the remaining rubble and bricks tonight, with some help from Emily and our second skip is 3/4 full. I'll post another picture of the cleared up garden when I get a chance.

A few years ago I might have found this pretty boring. But I'm getting some real satidfaction out of the project even if it's going to take a long time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Working in sweltering London and crappy hotels

I wish I was in the habit of carrying my camera with me everywhere if only to record the sheer crappiness of the hotel I just stayed in. I'm doing freelance work with an agency in London on a regulal basis now - which is great, I need the money and it means I'm finally working in something that resembles a 'proper design agency' with pretty varied and creative work. I used to live in london and although I'm glad to have moved out I do enjoy the buzz of visiting and working there. It's quite a trek from where I live in Banbury, so when I have two days work together it makes sense to get a room somewhere. I don't need a gold leaf wardrobe, all I need is a clean, simple room. I've stayed in plenty of corporate chain hotels and they are pretty soulless in spite of high quuality fittings.

The first place I stayed was The Generator - which is really a glorified backpacker's hostel. I enjoyed watching France play Portugal with a bunch of complete strangers and reading with cold beer in my hand. But my reservation got messed up this time and I ended up in the worst hotel I've ever seen in this country - furniture held together with cellotape, no hot water, sheets and towels with stains. Nice. Maybe I'll start a hotel photo diary.

There was Chilli Peppers gig on in Earl's Court and I had to fight my way through literally thousands of drunk sweaty fans coming in the opposite direction.

Monday, July 10, 2006

if only I can make a perfect rakusu...

I've always been wary of adhering to any sort of belief system, but I've found little in Soto Zen to object to on that front. For me it's more about releasing attachment to beliefs than gaining new ones. I do wonder though whether some of the people I practice with are attached to the trappings of the practice - the ceremonies, the wearing of kimonos and kesas, the chanting in archaic Sino-Japanese. I wonder if they will eventually burn the raft of the dharma in order to achieve greater liberation or whether they will float around in circles anchored to the Buddha.

I just go there to sit. The only time I wore a kimono was on an occasion when I was asked to lead a sitting - it seemed inappropriate not too. I do see usefulness in ritual acts in terms of mindfulness though. And I am sewing a rakusu.

However, I wonder whether this rakusu is just another useless attachment. When it is complete I don't know whether I will get ordained in it, give it away or destroy it. What would lead to the least attachment, bearing in mind that rejection is a form of attachment too? It's a sort of 'koan' for me right now. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. So I'm just focussing of practicing detachment - I'll just see what I do.

It seems possible to wear robes etc without attachment. For myself I wonder if it creates a sense of separation between ordinary life and spiritual life.

I question the motivation for wanting to wear a special costume enough that I would make substantial efforts to own one. Is it that we want to belong? Or feel holy? I know people I practice with who seem very attached to their rakusus and kesas - not at all surprising when they painstakingly stitched them by hand. They get ever so upset if they get dirty? Am I not creating one more thing to cling to ? More conditions for freedom and happiness?

I see the Believers of other religions around me practicing similar things to Zen. Are they doing it because it is a raft to take them to enlightenment? All of them? And we see similar things with ideologies of all sorts. They all have their rationalisations for while such things are needed. Maybe it has more to do with a sense of belonging to something 'special' and 'sacred'? Maybe it has everything to do with social psychology and nothing to do with the furtherment of enlightenment. I don't know. Maybe it can be both.

What this is really about deep down is this: I have a fear of having my mind melted by religious indoctrination. This isn't something I associate with zazen (which is a good anti-BS tool) but with religious trappings and beliefs - even the minimal ones of Zen. I practice Zen in part because it is so minimal in this regard, but it is there nevertheless.

'Fear' is a bit strong, but I have a slight anxiety that by accepting the uniform of a faith I am discouraging myself from testing for myself, thinking for myself and replacing that with conformity to doctrine and blind (or at least only partially sighted) faith. Zen is gooood....Zen is gooood...Zen is the solution to all problems...if only I can make a perfect kesa... Within Zen I believe this is sometimes called 'Zen sickness'.

Here is a fairly extreme attitude of importance attached to religious trappings in Soto Zen. I suspect that this attitude has a more to do with protecting and furthering Zen as a social institution than it has to do with individual awakening.

Not just a garment, the kesa itself is zazen. It is the robe of zazen and the robe of true Zen practice. Since the time of Shakyamuni, all of the masters of the transmission received, respected, wore, taught and passed on the kesa. Like zazen, it is nothing mysterious or mystical, but a natural part of our daily practice.

Some might say the kesa is not really important: "It's a formalism, unnecessary, zazen alone is enough, I don't need to wear it." And of course someone can do zazen without a kesa, it is not absolutely necessary. But without the kesa, zazen becomes only a method of body-mind training, not a true religion. For those who seek the Way, the kesa has a great value.

Wearing the kesa and doing zazen, unconsciously, naturally, automatically, we can receive the great merits of the true Way. Anyone can wear the kesa, and whether it be the grand kesa or the rakusu (mini-kesa), the merits are the same. It protects us as it protects the Way itself.

Comments? Advice? Anecdotes?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Zen Cat

I've not really had any time to blog recently. However, I am getting some reading done and I've redesigned my design website. Moving Sky

It includes a link to my latest project - a talking cat that studies Zen (under construction). I'm hoping to have him animated in the future. Zen Cat

Let me know your thoughts.