Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Wisdom’

Saturday, 8.9.2014

In The Examined Life, Wisdom on August 9, 2014 at 6:51 pm

The Maine air this evening (6:26pm) is easy and the light the color of honey. There is a wedding going on across the water and I can see the bride adorned in white and sporting tan shoulders and I think on what perfection it (I hope) must feel to be married on such an evening as this. Youth and marriage and an expectant future on a perfect Maine summer evening. Imagine!

I made blueberry jam this morning. That is what I do when the Maine blueberries come in. Two quarts berries yields nine pints. Nine pints of blue perfection to give to friends to spread on morning toast to pair with honey-roasted peanut butter between slices of rustic seeded whole wheat to paste on brie.

Can wisdom exist without tradition I wonder? It was the question that came to me on my morning walk. It was an early walk and the air like this evening was perfect except it was perfect morning rather than perfect evening air. Somewhere between the small hill and dead oak the question presented itself and I have wondered about it since. Wisdom I can’t see detached from tradition and yet I wish it was a thing singular if that makes any sense.

All that is esoteric enough for a night like this. Why spoil such a perfect moment with thinking? (Might a person just experience and appreciate a thing–enough already!)

Sometimes disjointed things come together and it seems that way this evening everything falling into a place and time.

I am sorry for the lack of commas. I just wanted to see what it felt like.

 

 

 

Thursday, 6.19.2014

In Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on June 19, 2014 at 12:32 am

I spotted a woman recently who was sporting a beautiful broad smile. She was an older woman, portly, and as she walked she swung her arms wide. I saw her again, a day or so later, same smile, broad and genuine. I could not help myself. “Excuse me,” I called. She was walking rapidly. She did not stop. “Excuse me,” I said again, a bit louder. She turned. “You have a beautiful smile,” I said. She leaned into me. “It is my gift,” she said. Her English was heavily accented–German, I think. She continued: “So many people have so many problems, you know. I can’t do anything to help them. So I give them my smile.” I was speechless and my eyes misted over. All I was capable of, being so taken aback by this, was an understated, Thank you.

It is not every day that wisdom walks by, arms swinging. When it does, be prepared to give thanks.

Knowledge Gained

In The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on September 4, 2013 at 6:00 am

I was raised better than to simply walk away from such a friend as you. Yet, I did, I have. My apologies. Sincerely. My absence does not mean I’ve not been thinking of you. To the contrary, I have been plagued with guilt, that most burdensome of the self-induced emotions, over my thoughtless (non-)actions. Over abandonment.

A friend, a reader of the House, recently chastened me: You cannot just walk away. You should post an update, explain. She was right, of course (as women most often are). Except I have little to offer as explanation. This is my pattern: In-depth obsession followed abruptly by vacuous absence. The pattern has dogged me all my life, tinting everything–cresting elation swamped by indifference.

To my friend’s comment, I offer this description by way of explanation. I note too, that in my last post (many months ago) I also touched on my obsessive tendencies. But this time is different. Now I have some related knowledge. Here’s what I now understand: My life has been spent in pursuit of mastery, or if not mastery, at least the ability to do something really well. Just one thing, anything. It didn’t matter, physical, intellectual, spiritual (whatever that is), athletic, one pursuit after another, all the while, sniffing the air, checking the compass, asking: Is this the path to mastery? Obsession grows around such a thing, blanketing it, so that only the pursuit remains, the motive lost. Ultimately, I read the wind: No, you’re not going to master this thing, then I shut down. The lever is flipped and I move on.

This insight came one night, prompted by a deep conversation with a young friend; a conversation well lubricated with ample amounts of Maker’s Mark. It was a flash, a revelation that laid out my entire life. Imagine all the dollars I saved in therapy! The next morning, the whisky fog cleared, yet the insight remained, the insight being specifically of a life spent in pursuit of mastery, albeit Illusive mastery.

Which brings me back to “…the House…” My effort here has been nothing less than to try to figure out how to master life. And here’s the thing: I came to understand that one can’t. Indeed, there are truly things a person can master but life is not one of them. This is knowledge gained, wisdom even, and in the gain a bit of awakening happens. Yet, even at that, a truth revealed, the lever is again flipped and I move on.

 

My Left Hip

In Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on June 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

It’s two and a half weeks since I had a defective hip prosthesis replaced. I have progressed from walker to cane to, again, bi-pedal motion. Pulling myself around behind a walker was revelatory and akin to stepping into a fast-forward time machine. At one point I was visiting my aged father, both of us shuffling behind our aluminium buggies. Yesterday when I saw him (sans walker) he poignantly commented that it must be rewarding to make progress. Sadly, he reflected, progress is behind him.

The bum hip resulted from years of hard-ship athletics: competitive weightlifting, long-distance running, mountain climbing, and so forth. I spent substantial time in my (youthful) life ignoring the ancient call for moderation, shunning what the Buddha called the middle way. It was obsession or nothing, one obsession daisy chained to the next.

Two weeks prone in bed gives one opportunity for reflection.

* * *

“The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less,” writes Anne Dillard. I was greedy. Guilty. Moderation, the middle way–that is the new horizon and I consider it with something less than obsession and more akin to meditation, like a snake shedding its skin.

As I’ve mentioned before, the question is not how to live, but how to think. One precedes the other naturally, but the logic of such a thing too often escapes us and we trudge forward living only.

* * *

Anticipating the surgery, a wise friend asked, “What are you going to do with this opportunity?” What a marvelous question! And I mean marvelous in the sense that I marveled over it: direct and simple and challenging. I could not outline how I might wrestle this question into order, but I embraced it openly and without constriction. It was, and remains, my wide-sky mantra.

The thing is, a question sometimes carries more portent in suspension. The answered question loses potential in resolution. Perhaps that is why the big questions remain, being so big as to constantly provoke and unsettle, never giving the pilgrim respite.

To wit: What are you going to do with this opportunity called life?

Om mani padme hum

In Life, Religion, Travel, Wisdom on June 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

om mani padme hum (in Tibetan)

A friend from many years ago recently saw a current photograph of me and noticed my tattoo. It’s easy to notice, would be impossible to not notice, being large and wrapping my left forearm. She asked what it meant.

A few years ago I got a hankering for a tattoo. It was likely one of those mid-life things, a harmless urge, as mid-life urges go. I’d been traveling a good bit and thought a tattoo might make for a nice souvenir. I remember walking down an alley in Gibraltar to a tattoo parlor. As the alley grew darker and dirtier my courage faltered then faded. Another time, in South America, the mood again struck. Again, I grew hesitent. Carole asked, “Why would you get a tattoo in a place where you can’t drink the water?” A wisely framed question, indeed.

I got the tattoo at home, in Portland.

It was Tibet, in 2004, where I first heard the mantra, om mani padme hum. Subsequent trips to the region, including Bhutan, a return to Tibet, trips to China, India and Nepal, underscored that initial experience. The best travel should afford the traveler an element of the transformational. You finish a different person than the person who set out. (Therein lies the difference between traveler and tourist.) Such was my response to Tibet that I wanted to honor it, and in doing so, found my tattoo.

Om mani padme hum is held to be the summary of the forty thousand teachings of the Buddha. It defies a straight interpretation but most scholars agree that the “heart jewel of the lotus” is a strict interpretation of the middle syllables. It is, as noted, open to interpretation and most practitioners of the mantra are simply repeating the sounds.

Personally, when asked, I prefer a layman’s interpretation. Specifically, the correspondence of the six syllables to what Buddhists call the six perfections. They are, in corresponding order to the mantra syllables:

  • om ~ generousity
  • man ~ self-discipline
  • i ~ patience
  • pad ~ virtue
  • me ~ mindfulness
  • hum ~ wisdom

I’m not keen on soft ideas and squishy notions. I’m a man who needs a philosophy that works. I lean toward the pragmatic. Of these attributes, all I can say is that they are the heart jewels of our humanity. They are tools by which a better self is molded from hard clay.┬áNot a day passes that life does not present me an opportunity to study the ink on my arm.

___________________

Post script: A reader asked if I could put up a photo of the tattoo. Here’s the image that sparked my friend’s question:

Tattoo

I don’t think I gave her the credit she was due.

In Family, Life, Memoir on May 13, 2012 at 8:00 am

I’m traveling. This is a repost. I hope you have a nice mother’s day.

______________________________

It’s mother’s day and I regret not being a better son. I wasn’t a bad son, but something held me back from being a really good, home-run good, son to my mom. I can’t explain it any other way, other than I was reserved and didn’t give her everything she probably wanted from her only child.

I’ve been thinking about this since I found a journal entry from thirty years ago, when my mother was a couple of years younger than I am now. I made a note then of a conversation we, my mother and I, had. In a rare moment of candor between mother and son she told me that, sadly, life had passed her by and that she regretted letting it happen. But she had no idea how she would have lived in any other manner or what to do about it going forward. I don’t recall the conversation, which bothers me. I just have the record of it, and that is part of the problem. Why don’t I remember such a confession?

I think I should remember a loved one being so upset and forthcoming. But I don’t. She didn’t do it often, open up like that–too much mid-western stoicism in her veins. I think she was asking something of me and I’m not sure what precisely. Nor did I try to find out. I suspect I was comforting, but I can’t be sure. I let her revelation slip away, receding behind us, and neither of us ever brought it up again. That was that.

I don’t think I gave her the credit she was due, all the attention she likely thirsted after. I don’t know exactly that to be the case, but I suspect it. I fear she wanted more and in telling me of her disappointments she thought I might somehow help. But I had a family to raise and distractions and it was my shortcoming to do nothing.

I fear wrestling with my shortcomings too late in life to do anything about them. But more, I fear missing another opportunity to be present when my presence is needed by someone I care about. It is said we cannot escape the sins of our fathers. Perhaps, conversely, we inherit the lessons of our mothers.