Saturday, May 23, 2009

My father, Zen master? Zen yelling

After reading The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, I’ve begun to reinterpret my father’s behaviors. I’ve discovered that he was quite possibly a Zen master.

The Zen master in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior did not have a habit of smoking, but he occasionally smoked, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

My father, the Zen master, did not have a habit of yelling. I cannot remember a time that my father ever yelled at me; however, he did occasionally yell, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

The usual occasion of my father’s yelling involved sports officials. He came to one of my little league baseball games, but he was asked not to return. The umpires did not appreciate his Zen chants. They found both the content and the volume offensive.

My father complied with their request for his absence, and he instead practiced his art watching sports on TV. His usual invective usually involved the poor eyesight of those officiating the game.

“Are you blind?” was a typical shout, often accompanied with hand movements. He was in the moment!

My mother did not understand this form of Zen. She preferred the quiet pool sweeping meditations that my father performed. Although she thought the Zen of reading the paper took him too long, she never feared for my father’s heart during that exercise. She did seem to think he would give himself a heart attack yelling at the TV.

“You know, honey, that they can’t hear you,” she’d protest. “Don’t give yourself a heart attack.”

Actually, his verbal attacks on the officials were doing just the opposite. He thundered out his protests, and his bosom was still and content afterward. Sometimes he was so calmed after a sporting event that he would move directly into the Zen of napping in a chair.

My mother would protest this too, but he would always provide a retort: “Dear, I’m not sleeping. I’m only resting my eyes.”

And he could do that, because he was a Zen master.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My father, Zen master? -- Jack and Stu

It seems that Zen masters have pet names for their students. The television version of this is the name “Grasshopper.” This was the name given to the student by the Master in the classic adventure TV series Kung Fu.

In the Way of the Peaceful Warrior the student is called “Jack.” This was a shortened version of his longer name: Jackass. Zen masters have a sense of humor and sometimes use what would appear as demeaning ridicule with their pupils. My father did the same.

My nickname was Stu. Sometimes I was called Stuart, but that wasn’t really the long version. My dad was alluding to another version of Stu: Stupid. That was his equivalent of “Grasshopper.”

For example:

“Hey, Stu. Come here.”

“Yes, Dad?”

“Why is the screwdriver stuck in the front lawn?”

“I was working on my bike.”

“Well, Stu, that’s not where the screwdriver belongs.”

“Sorry, Dad.”

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

“Sorry, Dad.”

“Don’t be sorry. Go put the screwdriver away.”

“Yes, Dad.”

* * * * *

Napoleon Dynamite is a fictional Zen master. His pet name for his disciples? “Idiot!”

Zen masters are patient, but sometimes they are annoyed by slowness in their pupils.

Besides, screwdrivers will rust, break the mower, or trip Zen masters, but only if Stu is careless and leaves them in the yard.

Eventually, I outgrew the nickname.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My father: Zen master? The Pool

My father may have been a Zen master. He never said so, but having recently read Way of the Peaceful Warrior, I’ve become suspect.

In a previous post, I told of my initiation Zen ivy trimming. Other lessons followed.

When I was in sixth grade, my parents upgraded our family home with a built-in swimming pool. It wasn’t exactly a Zen Koi pond, but it did provide a certain opportunity for meditation.

It was called: Vacuuming the Pool.

To my dad, this activity was an art form. He did it slowly, methodically, almost meditatively. I made the mistake of showing an interest.


“Yeah, Dad.”

“Looks like fun, doesn’t it.”


“Would you like to try it?”


And so the lessons began.

The set-up mechanics involved attaching a forty-five-foot piece of flexible tubing to rectangular device that fit on the end of a twenty-five foot pole. Once the tubing was secured and submerged, the loose end was plugged into the suction-end of the filtering system of the pool via the “skimmer”. Several valves were adjusted to maximize suction, and the meditative process began.

My father, the Zen master, calmly stroked the sides of the pool and its bottom with strong, firm, slow movements. He did not disturb the fine film of silt that lay on the bottom of the pool. He coaxed it quietly, silently, slowly into the vacuum’s head.

I was a poor student. I began well, but my performance deteriorated over time.

When the Master watched, I worked slowly, but soon I was trusted to perform the “meditation” independently, twice a week, unsupervised, after-school.

What took him an hour and a half, I completed in 30 minutes. I’m a fast meditator.

Where he coaxed, I corralled. I combined a brush and vacuum technique that violated the Rule of Slow, but I got the job done. Silly student that I was, I thought it was about the destination, not the journey.

I learned that lesson later.

Never the less, my father was content to let me repeat my twice-weekly attempts... for seven years.

He was very patient with me. Zen masters usually are.

“Did you vacuum the pool, Son?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Thank you, Son.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Do it again on Thursday.”

“Yes, Dad.”

And so my lessons continued.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My father: Zen master? Ivy.

I suspect that my dad was a Zen master. He would have denied it. Zen masters always do.

Recently I read a book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. It is a semi-autobiographical novel of one man’s journey to Enlightenment. I found it somewhat preposterous, but it got me thinking.

Once of the main characters worked nights performing the mundane tasks associated with working graveyard in a gasoline service station in Berkeley, California in the 1960’s. He was a Zen master.

My dad was a banker. He read numbers during the day and the paper at night after dinner. He was content. He didn’t speak a lot. He enjoyed the moment. Dinner. Paper. TV. Bedtime. Breakfast. Commute. Work. Home for dinner at 5:30. This was the work-a-day cycle of his pilgrimage.

In The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the Zen master takes on a recruit: the protagonist. My father received his recruit in the form of a son. When I was old enough to enroll in his “monastery,” my training began.

“Today son, we will be trimming the ivy. You will be allowed to help. I will cut. You will fill these 30 grocery bags with the clippings.”

“Okay. When?”


And so my training began. I gradually graduated to advanced ivy trimming.

“Son, today you will be trimming the ivy and crawling under the house to remove the invasive tendrils that are growing there. Look out for spiders.”

“Okay dad.”

“Wear old clothes.”

“Yes, father.”

I didn’t get any spider bites, and I felt the thrill of belly crawling beneath the house, cutting, gathering, and dragging out the 20 foot long pale green vines that lacked the sense to grow outdoors where they belonged.

I was absorbed by the task. I know what the world looks like out of a five inch by eight inch wire screen: it’s the world as seen by a young Zen student trimming ivy under a house in southern California.

More lessons followed.

To be continued…