Caveat: Belerofonte perdido

I awoke from a very strange dream last night.  It was one of those awkward "back at grad school" dreams.  I was at some social function, but with scholarly types and colleagues most of whom I didn't like or trust particularly.  Michelle was there too, but she was being unusually uncommunicative.

I was trying to talk to someone about my thesis topic:  Cervantes' Persiles.  But the person I was talking to was ignoring me, basically.  I felt in over my depth, which was a common sensation in grad school.  And then I found this book sitting on a side table in the living-room type place we were in.  It was an ancient looking, leather-bound book, and the title on the spine was Belerofonte perdido [Bellerophon Lost].  More weirdly, the author was clearly stated as Washington Irving.  Really.

I opened the book, inside my dream, and began to read.  It was a sort of romantic-era imitation of one of the late medieval peninsular novelas de cabelleria.  And as best I could deduce from the title page, this was a translation of something written by Washington Irving.  Now… I realize (based on a few googlings this morning) that this is in no way "real."  But there's just a hint of plausibility.  And it was quite magical, to be reading these imaginary passages of complex early 19th century Spanish prose translated from 19th century English prose which had been written in imitation of 15th century Spanish prose.  Such is my weird imagination.

Within the dream I began to reason through what was happening.  There wasn't much action going on, it was very cerebral and meditative, but in the sense that I was aware that I was dreaming, it was a remarkably lucid dream.  Here is what I was thinking.

I suppose there's some logic to some aspects of this coming out this way.  Last night, I went to see the movie Avatar with Mark, Charlie and Martin.  The movie was pretty good, and very imaginative, though not the best-written thing, plotwise or dialogwise.  And there's a bit of a visitation to some of the themes of the Bellerophon myth, especially in the scenes involving the taming and riding of the flying dragon-creatures, a la Pegasus.  But more importantly, there had been some previews before the movie that had puzzled me a bit:  two movies, not related, advertised, on Greek-mythology themes.

"What's that about?" I had wondered to myself.  "Where's this sudden interest in Greek mythology coming from, from the depths of the Hollywood machine?"  But… so… that's where Bellerophon comes in.

Why was Bellerophon lost?  Well, for his arrogance.  Is that a warning against arrogance, to me, from my subconscious?

Where's my Pegasus?  What's my Chimera?  Is it even about me?  The people in the grad school party around me didn't matter, I was absorbed by the story.  It was just a dream, after all.

I awoke from my dream, got up, and went and had a great breakfast with my friends Shari and Kristen in St Paul.   I have so many wonderful friends, who so kindly tolerate my aimless itinerancy.

Caveat: Korean Food in Eagan

I went out to lunch at a Korean restaurant in a strip mall along highway 13 in Eagan, with a bunch of friends:  Bob and Sarah and Henry, and Mark and Amy and Charlie and Martin, and Tayo (Bob's nephew) was along too.  

Our expectations were low.  And… I've not eaten Korean since coming back from Korea.  Surprising?  A little, maybe, but I figure I'll be getting plenty of Korean soon enough, when I go back.  Still, we decided to try it out — it's basically across the highway from where my storage unit is, so it's conveniently located.

It turned out to be very good.  Authentic feeling, and excellent food.  I highly recommend Hoban Restaurant to anyone living in or passing through Minnesota and craving a "real" Korean dining experience.  I had some kimchi dolsotbap which was excellent.  

With Bob and Mark both there, it's been a bit of an "1808 Portland" reunion — 1808 Portland Avenue in St Paul is the duplex house that Bob, Mark and I shared as housemates (along with some others) back in the 1980's, at the time I was attending the University of Minnesota.  I drove by that place the other day, and took a picture, for old-time's sake — I have such fond memories of my time living there (over 2 years, I think):


Caveat: 2009

I continued at
L-Bridge until September, but I let my contract run out. I loved teaching elementary-age kids, and I wondered, 'Am I
happy?' I wasn't completely happy, but I was happier than during most of my life – so, all things being relative, it seems like I've chosen a good "career." Nevertheless, since more than a few days' vacation is unheard of in the
hagwon biz, I decided I needed to "check in" back in the U.S., so I resigned
my job (with the idea of re-taking it, or something similar, upon
return) and went back to the U.S. for a few months. I put 10000 miles on
my pickup truck in 3 months, and then sold it. I spent 10 days at a
Buddhist Monastery outside of Chicago.

[This entry is part of a timeline
I am making using this blog. I am writing a single entry for each year
of my life, which when viewed together in order will provide a sort of
timeline. This entry wasn't written in 2009 – it was written in the

Caveat: It’s a bad choice!

Henry explains:

I was out Bob's parents in White Bear Lake last night. Bob and Sarah and Henry were there, visiting up from Wisconsin, and Mark and Amy and Charlie and Martin came out, too, as well as Bob's sister Mary Anne and her son Tayo, visiting from DC. It was a good gathering. Bob's parents don't think I'm a bad influence on him anymore, like they used to when they first met me.

Caveat: Minneapolis

After driving from Denver to L.A. over the weekend, I left my truck there (where I’m selling it to my dad) and flew back to Minneapolis, to take care of the last-minute things that I need to do before returning to Korea.  Landing in Minneapolis, getting my rental car and driving out into the bright sunshine:  23 F (-5 C), piles of dirty snow… I really do love it here.  Of my many homes, this is my “truest” home, I suppose.




Caveat: The end of driving

Since landing in Minneapolis upon my return from Korea on September 24, I have put over 14,000 miles (that's around 22,500 km) on my little truck.  I have visited 26 states (and 1 Canadian province).  And now I'm tired of driving.  I'm selling my truck.  I'm in Los Angeles.

I'll fly back to Minneapolis tomorrow, where I'll rent a car for around-town type errands.  But I'm done with road-trips.  At least, for the time being.  And I return to Los Angeles next weekend, and I'm going back to Korea soon after that.  This vast crazy North American tour is almost over.  I'm looking forward to being back in Korea, although my job situation is more up-in-the-air than I'd been intending.  But it will work out… and even if it doesn't, I'm confident things will be fine.

Caveat: Utah, Unedited. [The Herbaliser – The Next Spot]

I drove across Utah.  It was covered in snow.   Here is the most boring video imaginable:  driving, real-time, no editing.  This is part of one of the longest stretches of interstate with no gas station that I know of: I-70 west of the Green River crossing.

So… it's a 7 mile snapshot of my 14,000 mile cross-country experience, second-by-second.  Unedited.  Mostly, it was an excuse to post a cool soundtrack: The Herbaliser – The Next Spot.

Caveat: World of Goo

My friend Mark gave me a copy of a computer game called "World of Goo."  I showed it to my nephews, and it's been a huge hit.  Nephew James, age 5, spent hours playing it this morning, and my brother-in-law Eric got into it too.

I drove down from Brenda and Eric's at around midday today, and will spend Christmas eve and Christmas day with my sister's in-laws in Denver's southwestern suburbs.  I have a pretty long-lasting tradition of spending Christmas with my sister's extended in-law family, mostly in Phoenix in years past, but I've missed the last few years, being in Korea.  This year, it's at Jodi and Doug's here in Colorado.

Caveat: Back on the road for the shortest day of the year

After that long break, I'm driving again.  I went from my friend's in southeastern Wisconsin as far as Kansas City today — I'm going to Denver for Christmas, and although the southern route (via Missouri and Kansas) is a few hours longer than the northern route (via Iowa and Nebraska), because of the winter storms on the satelite, I made the choice of taking the southern route.  Plus, I always have a special feeling for Kansas City, even though I rarely stop there.  I had a lot of relatives there at one time, though most of them have redistributed over the years — it's my mother's birthplace, and her mother's too, I think.  So it's a kind of maternal-line homeland.   Plus, I just think it's an interesting and attractive city. 

Caveat: I broke a neuron

I'm back from my 11 day "meditation retreat."  So strange… Really, it was basically ten days as an initiate buddist monk in the burmese theravada tradition.    Very strict, very intense.  Very quiet — no talking except once-daily interviews between instructors and students.  No access to computers, cellphones, music, books, paper, pencils or pens.  Etc.

My friend Bob, before I left, said to me:  "I don't know what to say to someone leaving on a meditation retreat.  Maybe:  'Break a neuron!'"  (analogous to "break a leg!").

So, I broke a neuron.   But just one.  

Caveat: Rescuing the cat

Upon leaving the meditation center, my fellow meditator Richard decided to rescue the stray cat (see posts from day 6 and day 9).  I offered to drive him into Chicago, where he lived, since he didn't have transportation planned that could include the transport of a stray cat.

We took the cat in my truck, and we talked a lot as we drove down I-90 into the city.  Richard lives in Hyde Park, which is the neighborhood in Chicago where I lived 24 years ago (24!).  I only lived in Chicago for a short time, but it has always been one of my favorite cities and places.

We got take out from Harold's Chicken Shack, which is a chain of Chicago south-side fast-food joints that I remember very fondly from when I lived there.  The branch we went to didn't exist when I lived there, but it was located in the same exact shopping center at 53rd and Kimbark where I used to work.  Here is a picture of Kimbark plaza, and the CVS pharmacy at the far end used to be a hardware store, where I worked.


Here is a picture of the Harold chicken.  Note the delicious slices of squishy white bread that are served to soak up the juices of the fried chicken.


Then we went to Richard's apartment, smuggled the cat in, and had some lunch.  The cat seemed very content.  Richard lives on the 24th floor of a high rise near Lake Michigan.  The view from his apartment is amazing.


I drove past 62nd and Kimbark, where I used to live, but the neighborhood is unrecognizable from 24 years ago — I think the Univ of Chicago has redeveloped the area substantially.

Finally, I drove back up toward Wisconsin.  As I passed through downtown, it was beginning to snow.  Chicago is such a stunningly beautiful city, to me.  I found an old Psychadelic Furs song on the radio.  I crawled through Sunday traffic on the Kennedy Expressway.  I felt very joyful.

Caveat: Bhavatu Sabbu Mangalam

[this is a "back-post";  it is a work-in-progress, so it may change partially or completely, with materials added or taken away, over the next several days or weeks.]

Here is a list of the entries I have written (or will write over the coming days) about my experience at the Vipassana meditation retreat.

Day 0 Day Zero
Day 1 Happiness is serious business
Which nostril?
Day 2 False Joy
True Dogma
Day 3 Touch of Desperation
O blessed itching sensation
Day 4 Foucault's Fun Farm
Day 5 The pain in my ass
The fetishization of misery
Day 6 ……………………
I <3 My Monkey Mind
Day 7 A muskrat chases a goose
The Body Without Organs (you wish!)
Day 8 Salvation through proprioception
Fantasies of the real
The parable of the secret gift
A constellation of capsaicin
Day 9 Sanctimonious metaphysical nonsense
An ant on the wall. Pushing back.
Day 10 No vibrations. No Christ. No love.
Gnarled, twisted, naked tree. Snow.
개구리도 움츠려야 뚼다
Day 11

Bhavatu sabbu mangalam

Here is a picture of the retreat center, taken this morning after I got my camera out of storage.


Caveat: 개구리도 움츠려야 뚼다

[This is a "back-post";  it is a work-in-progress, so it may change partially or completely, with materials added or taken away, over the next several days or weeks.  This is "day 10(c)" of my stay at the Vipassana Meditation retreat.  For general comments and summary, see "day 11."]

The phrase in the title to this post is a Korean proverb:  "even a frog must crouch before it can jump."

I never really could remember what else I meant to write here. That's a disadvantage to "blogging in one's head."

Caveat: Gnarled, twisted, naked tree. Snow.

[This is a "back-post";  it is a work-in-progress, so it may change partially or completely, with materials added or taken away, over the next several days or weeks.  This is "day 10(b)" of my stay at the Vipassana Meditation retreat.  For general comments and summary, see "day 11."]

The strict rule of silence ended, and I felt a feeling of relief, sadness, and frustration. Relief, because I was feeling fed up with the program.  "Done." Sadness, because I was, nevertheless, getting a lot out of it, and enjoying the focused, disciplined detail of the moment-to-moment. Frustration, because I had hoped I would have liked the program more… that I might have gotten more out of it.

Overall, however, I felt a sort of joyful equanimity. Not, perhaps, the sort of equanimity that Goenka would approve of:  I was joyful to be IN the world, living it it, experience it's beauty and complexity. No non-attachment, for me. I guess maybe I still don't "get it" ?

There was this bench that I would like to spend time visiting briefly, during the short breaks between meditation sessions. It was right outside the "men's entrance" of the meditation hall. I would go out and lie down on it, looking up at the sky through the branches of the tree. Night sky, with clouds and distant Chicagoglow, or with stars, or day sky, cloudy, or blue.  But always quite cold. The warmest things got during the retreat was maybe low 30's F. 

I lay down on the bench and looked up at the tree. Snowflakes landing on my face.

Here is a picture of the bench [taken after I got my stuff back on day 11].


Here is a picture looking up at the tree [taken after I got my stuff back on day 11].


Caveat: No vibrations. No Christ. No love.

[This is a "back-post";  it is a work-in-progress, so it may change partially or completely, with materials added or taken away, over the next several days or weeks.  This is "day 10(a)" of my stay at the Vipassana Meditation retreat.  For general comments and summary, see "day 11."]

My problem with purity.

Purity is a problematic concept. It seems well and good. And it has all sorts of cultural manifestations, and seems close to a human universal.

But purity, and concommitant, oppositional notions like "pollution" and "defilement," are dangerous memes. When applied to cultural and psychological constructs, they seem to lead down a slippery slope to intolerance and fanaticism, almost unfailingly.

Caveat: 1-800-SUICIDE

[This is a "back-post";  it is a work-in-progress, so it may change partially or completely, with materials added or taken away, over the next several days or weeks.  This is "day 9(d)" of my stay at the Vipassana Meditation retreat.  For general comments and summary, see "day 11."]

This is a very grim title. But actually, it's not a negative moment.  There's a raucous rock song by a group called Zeromancer, entitled "Doctor Online". It has the line "1-800-suicide" as part of its chorus.

It is stuck in my head, this evening, after a minor epiphany. I'd returned to my room, after tea…  after my weeping during meditation earlier. After my loss of equanimity.

And I somehow decided, or realized, that setting aside "desires and aversions" – losing my attachment to these things… this seems like a kind of "spiritual suicide." I mean… its our desires and aversions that let us know that we're alive, right? If we no longer have desires and aversions, mightn't we as well be dead?

I think the more nuanced view is that it's not that we're to get rid of desires and aversions, but only that we're to lose our attachment to the results of our actions that those desires and aversions engender. But Goenka, in his presentations and discourses, utterly fails to convey this nuance clearly. And the more blunt view (which seems to prevail in a lot of Theravada) that nirvanna (enlightenment) is all about letting go of desires and aversions altogether seems too shallow to me. Too much like quitting the world in the name of happiness. Too much like giving up.

So the song was stuck in my head.  But it restored my equanimity. Although it left me with a certain degree of apathy vis-a-vis the meditation program.

Caveat: An ant on the wall. Pushing back.

[This is a "back-post";  it is a work-in-progress, so it may change partially or completely, with materials added or taken away, over the next several days or weeks.  This is "day 9(c)" of my stay at the Vipassana Meditation retreat.  For general comments and summary, see "day 11."]

I am in the bathroom, and I notice an ant. The ant appears to be damaged. Wounded. The back legs don't seem to be working very well. I worry that maybe I stepped on it accidentally, or hurt it some other way.

The ant is trying to climb up the wall. It will make it up one foot, maybe two feet. And then it will fall down to the floor.  It will walk a little way along the base of the wall, and the climb the wall again.  And fall down.  It did this 5 or 6 times. 




And then it walked along the base of the bathtub, around behind the toilet, where it stumbled into a spider web.  It struggled, there, for a short time. And then stopped.

Shortly before, I'd returned to my room after 5 o'clock tea. I was restless, and frustrated, and sad.  I was looking forward to doing push-ups in my room.  This was, perhaps, the first time ever that I'd looked forward to doing push-ups.

Stir-crazy: I did 150 jumping jacks, and 30 push-ups.

As I did my illicit exercise (it seems it's not technically considered desirable to have aerobic exercise during the intensive meditation course), I thought about "the world pushing back."

What does this mean, the world pushing back? We can't stop wanting things. We can't stop feeling aversion to things. Desire and aversion are things that let us know that we're alive. That's the world, pushing back. Just like being down, doing push-ups:  the world pushes back, hard. That's gravity.

I'm not sure what I'm getting at. I guess I just feel that to speak of eliminating desires and aversions is ridiculous. It's like choosing to be dead. You can only let go of your attachment to the outcomes (results) of actions brought on by desires and aversions.  But that's important. I think about David White's discussions of the philosophy of non-attachment as outlined in the Bhagavad Gita.