Confronting Demons

Confronting Your Fear When It Matters Most

Perhaps the Demons Are Not Real

In The Tibetan Book of the Dead, there is a detailed discussion of how a dying person should be guided past the “wrathful deities” that are images of his fear to the desired annihilation of the self in Nirvana. There is a state between death and either rebirth or liberation from the circle of endless rebirths.

Here is a description of one of these demons, named Heruda:

O, Child of Buddha Nature, listen without distraction. Although the intermediate state of the peaceful deities did previously arise within you, you did not recognize it. So now you have wandered, [through the succession of pathways,] to here. Now, on the eighth day, the assembly of wrathful blood-drinking deities will arise. Recognize them and do not be distracted! O, Child of Buddha Nature, he who is called the Great Glorious Buddha Heruka will [now] arise, vividly manifesting before you from within your own brain. His body, blazing in a mass of light, is dark brown in colour, having three heads, six arms and four legs, which are [firmly] set apart. His right face is white, the left red and the central face dark brown. His nine eyes are fixed in a fearsome wrathful gaze, his eyebrows are quivering like lightning, his fangs are bared and gleaming, and he is laughing loudly, uttering the sounds of Alala and Haha, and Shoo oo—like whistles, in loud piercing cries. The golden-auburn hair of his head blazes and rears upward, sun and moon-discs, black serpents, and dry skulls adorn each of his heads, and black snakes and fresh skulls form a garland around his body. In his six hands he holds, on the right in the first hand, a wheel, in the middle one, an axe, and in the last hand a sword and to the left, in his first hand, he holds a bell, in the middle one, a ploughshare and in the last a skull. The female consort Buddhakrodhesvari is embracing his body, her right hand clasped around his neck and her left offering a skull-cup filled with blood to his mouth. Amidst loud pounding palatal sounds of ‘Thuk-chom’, and an [echoing] roar like the reverberation of thunder, the fire of pristine cognition blazes from the fiery indestructible pores of their bodies, and thus they stand together, [with one leg] extended and [the other] drawn in on a throne supported by garudas.

Do not be afraid! Do not be terrified! And do not be awed! Recognize this to be the buddhabody of your own intrinsic awareness. These are your own meditational deities, so do not be terrified. This, in reality, is the transcendent lord Vairocana and his consort, so do not be afraid. Recognition and liberation will occur simultaneously!

It is difficult for us to recognize what appears to be a wrathful demon as a manifestation of ourselves. By exhibiting fear in this critical Bardo state (as the Tibetans call it) will tie you to this life and the inevitable defeat of rebirth. Perhaps in our culture, we do not see rebirth as a negative: Rather, we typically frighten ourselves with demons and exhibit fear.

Whereas in our culture it is death and the pathways to it that terrify us, the Tibetans see death as a teachable moment—the last chance for non-returning to a world characterized by misery.

As I write this, Martine and I have just returned from a nearby hospice in which a longtime friend is confronting pancreatic cancer and trying to prepare his mind for—what? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that fear on that last approach is an ever-present danger. May we all be spared from this fear as we make our way out of this world and into—what?

Frank Herbert in his book Dune included this Bene Gesserit mantra which I think of often when confronting my own demons:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

There is great wisdom in these lines.

A Plethora of New Words

Whom Do You Think Is Going to Win This Conversation?

Mansplaining: Whom Do You Think Is Going to Win This Argument?

The Oxford Dictionaries have released a list of new words that will start appearing in its online dictionaries and—who knows?—eventually the printed editions. I have indicated some of the more interesting ones below in alphabetical order:

  • amazeballs, adj.: (informal) very enjoyable, impressive or attractive. I can’t imagine anyone but a salesman using this one.
  • bro hug, n.: (U.S. informal) friendly embrace between two men. No tongues involved!
  • clickbait, n.: (informal) (on the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page. I am excessively familiar with this phenomenon.
  • cord cutting, n.: (informal) practice of cancelling a pay television subscription or landline phone connection in favor of an alternative Internet-based or wireless service. Unrelated to childbirth.
  • cray, adj. (also cray cray): (US informal) crazy. I wonder if there is any tie-in with Cray Supercomputers.
  • dox, v.: (informal) search for and publish private data about (an individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent. Look as you will, you will probably not discover anything about my incontinence.
  • FML, abbrev.: (vulgar slang) f*ck my life! (used to express dismay at a frustrating personal situation).
  • hate-watch, v.: (informal) watch (a television program) for the sake of the enjoyment derived from mocking or criticizing it. Just about everything that’s televised falls into this category for me.
  • humblebrag, n. & v.: (informal) (make) an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud. I would never call attention to myself this way. Honest!
  • hyperconnected, adj.: characterized by the widespread or habitual use of devices that have Internet connectivity. In future, people will look at this as one of the dominant cultural features of our time.
  • listicle, n.: an Internet article presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list. I guess this post would qualify as a listicle.
  • mansplain, v.: (informal) (of a man) explain something to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. This is my favorite. I’ve never heard of it before, but it’s going to become part of my vocabulary henceforth.
  • side-eye, n.: (informal , chiefly US): a sidelong glance expressing disapproval or contempt. Oops, this is something I do a lot.
  • throw shade, phrase: (US informal) publicly criticize or express contempt for someone. This is the main activity at Faux News.
  • YOLO, abbrev.: (informal) you only live once (expressing the view that one should make the most of the present moment)… And here I thought it was just a county in Northern California.

To see the complete list as published by Salon.Com, click here. WDYT? (What Do You Think?)


The Cloud-Covered City of the Kings

The Garúa Investing the Coastline of Lima

The Garúa Investing the Coastline of Lima

Just because Peru is a few degrees south of the Equator doesn’t mean the sun is always shining. In fact, from June through November, a warm wind interacting with the cold Humboldt current results in a condition around Lima locally referred to as la garúa. As one American expat describes it:

It is more than a fog, less than a rain. It is the heavy mist that sometimes appears in the winter in Lima. The locals call it la garúa, a sea mist caused by warm winds interacting with the cool water of the ocean. It is a condition found usually from June through November along the Peruvian Coast.

Arriving in Lima as I am in September, I will be in the Peruvian equivalent of March (subtract six from the ninth month of the year), which means it will still be winter. That will be fine with me, because I abhor hot weather. I expect Lima will be similar to our spring marine layers in Los Angeles that we usually refer to as “June Gloom.”

Here is another view, taken from the historic center of the City of Kings:

Foothills of the Andes from Central Lima

Foothills of the Andes from Central Lima

It will be a challenge to me as a photographer to make my scenic views interesting, but it will be fun. Once I leave Lima, I will be in the bright sunny mountains with their spectacular clouds.

Victor Hugo on Balzac’s Death

How Honoré de Balzac died:

La Comedie Humaine by Balzac

The Death of Balzac
By Victor Hugo

On the 18th of August, 1850, my wife, who had been during the day to see Mme. de Balzac, told me that Balzac was dying. I hurried to him.

M. de Balzac had been suffering for eighteen months from hypertrophy of the heart. After the revolution of February he went to Russia, and there married. Some days before his departure I met him in the boulevard. He was then complaining, and breathing noisily. In May, 1850, he returned to France, married, rich, and dying! When he arrived, his legs were already swollen. Four doctors held a consultation. One of them, M. Louis, told me on the 6th of July, “He has not six weeks to live.” It is the same disease that killed Frederic Soulie.

On August 18th my uncle, General Louis Hugo, was dining with me. As soon as the table was…

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R.I.P. E-Mail

Remember When E-Mail Was Really Great?

Remember When E-Mail Was Really Great?

When I return from Peru, I expect to find approximately 2,000 e-mails on each of three accounts that I have. Approximately 80% will be outright spam, and most of the rest are offers I will have no difficulty in mass deleting. How is it that such a fantastic communication medium has become so spoiled by hackers, hucksters, spammers, and others. When I scan my e-mail, I really am not really interested in enlarging my penis, ordering lookalikes of popular prescription drugs, or taking advantage of 20% sales (when I could save 100% by just deleting the offer).

Thanks to advances in viruses and malware, I find it safer by far to just delete—especially when the e-mail contains links or file attachments. Even some e-mails from my friends are suspicious: They could be used as bots for the distribution of virus payloads. The safest thing is to call the friend before following that link or loading that file.

Even when my inbox is filled with legitimate offers, merchants frequently feel that they need to hit you every day, usually with limited time offers that are invariably extended. Just because I ordered some printer toner from one vendor two years ago, I hear from them every day. Far from being appreciative of being reminded of their existence, I go out of my way to get my toner from other suppliers that don’t bug me to death.

Technology is always that way, it seems: For every three steps forward, there are two or three steps back. And it’s all because of human nature being what it is.

In Search of Lost Restaurants

The Much Lamented Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese Restaurant

The Much Lamented Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese Restaurant

If one doesn’t have any children, the easiest way to mark the passage of time is by restaurant closings. For example, my favorite used to be the Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese Restaurant at 140 W. Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel. One Hawaiian patron wrote on Yelp:

This was my favorite Chinese restaurant for years and years. I loved it so much, I’d fly over from Hawaii then spend 45 minutes on those dreaded L.A. highways driving over. Before my flight back home, I’d drive over again to pick up green onion pancakes and deep fried shrimp balls (okay, stop laughing, I don’t know what else to call them) dipped in salt and pepper to eat on the plane.

There are hundreds of others: Stelvio’s, Mario’s, Asuka, and Carl Andersen’s Chatham in Westwood; Toi on Wilshire and the Broken Drum in Santa Monica; Gorky’s Cafe and Russian Brewery in downtown L.A.; Marco Polo’s and Pepy’s Chili in Culver City; the Hortobagy Hungarian Restaurant in Studio City; Nichols Restaurant* in Marina Del Rey; and the Chung King in West Los Angeles. I could name hundreds more, but what would be the point?

Today, while I ate lunch at the still robust Westwood Thai Restaurant, I was reading an article amount Walter Benjamin in the July 10 issue of The New York Review of Books. Benjamin was a German Jew who committed suicide when he was unable to cross over into Spain from France during the Second World War. The war not only killed much of what he loved, but he felt hunted by the Nazis and couldn’t take the stress of returning to Vichy France and trying on a better day. As Susan Sontag said about him, “He felt that he was living in a time when everything valuable was the last of its kind.”

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin

In our crazy 21st Century existence, it’s easy to feel that way. I am thinking now of Robin Williams’s suicide because of … whatever it was really because of: We just don’t know for sure. At some point, Robin, like Walter Benjamin, made the decision that there were not enough valuable things in life left to make a go of it.

It seems quite a jump from a closed restaurant one has loved to a decision about life and death, but is it really? Restaurants open and close quickly. There are other things going on in our lives, however, at a much more glacial pace that could affect how we feel about ourselves and life in general. For instance, do we have a fatal illness? Has everyone we have ever loved died (cf. Mark Twain)? Have we lost the ability to see or hear? Are we facing a future of grinding poverty? Do we feel guilt for an evil that we have committed (most school shooters)?

Life wants us to live as much as we can, or dare. I learned early on from having brain surgery in 1966 that things will change, and I would have to change with them. Just because he became deaf, Beethoven did not quit composing great works. I knew early on I could never have children without a pituitary gland, so I became whatever it is I am today, with which I am all right. I feel relatively good in my aging skin.

* – This is a footnote. Don’t be alarmed. The Nichols Restaurant didn’t die: It became a zombie, now called J. Nichols Restaurant, where it serves TSF (thirty-something food) for millennials and others who want an alternative to Cheerios.

Now You, Too, Can Be a Smurf!

Colorful Footwear => Smurfware

Colorful Footwear => Smurfware

Not that I have anything against the Smurfs, except, maybe, that there’s only one female Smurf, namely Smurfette. Now, whether you’re a guy or a gal, you, too, can look like a Smurf. Just wear shoes in neon colors that clash violently with the rest of your outfit. (One hopes that your entire wardrobe is not in matching neon colors: That would go beyond Smurfdom into outright Twee.)

Today, as I walked along the Santa Monica Promenade, I felt curiously muted—even invisible. First of all, my age makes me invisible. Then, too, I was dressed in muted shades of blue and buff with a straw hat to shade against the fierce sun. I guess you’d have to walk right into me to notice my existence at all. Do you suppose it’s because my shoes aren’t bright enough? Hmmmmm.