Zen Soapbox

News and views…with a twist of Zen!

Operation American Downfall

I read this week that there has been a lot of anger on the right side of the political spectrum since the election on Nov. 6. Have you heard about this? Wow, those guys are really worked up! Some of them want to secede from the union. Yeah, just get up and leave the good ol’ U.S. of A. and start a whole new country. Man, they are mad!

The ones who don’t want to secede want Romney’s delegates to boycott the Electoral College. The idea is that, without a quorum, the college will not be able to select a president so the House of Representatives will be forced to. And guess who’s in charge of the House? Yep, the Tea Party. So they would get to pick the president—and what do you think the odds are that they would pick Barack Hussein Obama?

Now how does that grab you?

And the ones that don’t want to boycott the Electoral College are stocking up on shotgun shells and canned beans. Yes, it’s a gay old time in Tinsel Town tonight!

Judson Phillips, in a post on Tea Party Nation, said that this “triumph of liberalism” threatens to destroy our national unity and American greatness. That’s laying it on kind of thick, isn’t it?

Or is it?

You know, I used to think those guys were just a bunch of whack jobs, but now I see that they are actually a lot smarter than they look. They have somehow managed to uncover the full depth and scope of the liberal agenda—and they’re printing it on their websites and broadcasting it on Fox News!

I think it’s time for President Obama to formally launch Operation American Downfall. It’s a little premature because all of the details haven’t been worked out yet, but the Tea Party is not leaving us much choice. Now that the plan has been exposed, we have to roll with it.

Here is what they have found out: President Obama is, in fact, a Kenyan-born Muslim and card carrying member of the International Communist Party. Yes, it’s all true. Every bit of it. (And we liberals are all Communists, if you haven’t figured that part out yet). And President Hussein Obama (as he will soon declare himself) has worked with a cabal of  elite American liberals (mostly college professors and New York Times reporters) to draft a top secret plan which will accomplish exactly what the Tea Party fears most: the weakening and ultimate destruction of American freedom.

We liberals want America on its knees. We are sick to our stomachs about all the bad things we Americans have done over the last couple hundred years and we think we should be punished for it. Unfortunately, we’re too powerful right now for anyone to punish us. So we have devised this plan to weaken the economy, tax the American people into bankruptcy, and cut the defense budget to practically nothing while simultaneously strengthening our enemies until they are in a position to chastise us for what we have done.

As I mentioned, all the details haven’t been worked out yet, but here is the rough outline:

  • Show more weakness. One thing that would really help is a Second Big Apology Tour. President Obama needs to make another round in the Middle East to bow and scrape before every two-bit chief and potentate in the region until the world finally realizes we really have no backbone left and we are ripe for new attacks.
  • Do everything possible to strengthen the Islamic world. Pakistan and Egypt could be stronger. We need to send billions more in aid to these countries so they can develop smart weapons and missiles with greater range on which to attach nuclear weapons.
  • Embolden Islamic terrorist groups by pointing out all of our flaws—such as our free speech which allows cartoonists and videographers the opportunity to insult the Great Prophet and engage in all manner of blasphemies. We should apologize profusely for every insult and then increase the aid to Egypt and Pakistan.
  • Drag our feet as long as possible to give Iran every opportunity to develop a nuclear weapon. Until they have one, we cannot rest easy. Our military and intelligence services have been far too effective in discovering and preventing terrorist attacks. What we really need are some loose nukes in the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda to really shake things up.
  • Continue helping China become the world’s only superpower. The best part of this is that we don’t even have to do Anything differently. Just keep sending our middle class jobs over there and keep buying their dirt cheap, pirated products and the rest will take care of itself. Cake.
  • Regulate corporations until they squeal. We cannot rest until there is a regulation for how many squares of toilet paper you can put on a roll. Evil corporations should not be able to make a single unit of their product without a gold-plated government stamp on it. A bureaucrat should inspect each and every piece—and if even one of them has the slightest chance of adding one part-per-gazillion of carbon to the atmosphere, there should be a hefty fine. These evil corporations are going to have to learn that there’s a new sheriff in town.
  • Tax fossil fuels into extinction. Recent storms are scaring the bejesus out of people, so they’re really starting to buy into the whole global warming thing.  Only when America no longer has the ability to consume unlimited energy will it be at its most  vulnerable. When gas is so expensive that even Senators can’t afford it anymore, we’ll know we’re getting close.
  • Government is bigger than it has ever been—but it’s still not big enough. If all of our economic forecasts are correct, we could have nearly 87% of Americans on food stamps by 2016. When every American is dependent on government handouts to survive, they will be far less likely to put up resistance when the black U.N. helicopters arrive.
  • Speaking of which: ban the sale and ownership of all guns. Even cap pistols. Possession of a gram of gunpowder will be an automatic sentence of three years in prison. Possession of a firearm: life in a comfortable suite in one of our new prisons with Olympic-size swimming pools, tanning beds, juice bars, and karaoke every Thursday night.
  • Avoid tax breaks to the very wealthy at all costs. This could result in the creation of millions of jobs and could wreck the whole plan. The economy must be crippled in order to establish socialism.

So why am I telling you this now? Because there’s nothing anyone can do about it anymore. The victory of Barack Obama on Nov. 6 gives us the mandate we need to make these dramatic changes. And the sweetest part of it is, Obama has been telling us exactly what he was going to do for four years—and he still got more than half of Americans to vote for him! What a bunch of suckers!

We haven’t mentioned the re-education camps yet, but you might want to start stocking up on travel-sized toothpaste.


The Rules for Being Human

Re-blogged from Teacher as Transformer.

What wonderful, simple rules. They speak for themselves. Enjoy!


Black Thursday II

Last year about this time, I posted a little soapbox item called, “Black Thursday.” In that post, I talked about how so-called “Black Friday” has been creeping back slowly toward Thanksgiving for the last few years, with stores opening earlier and earlier. It all started with a handful of stores opening at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, then 4:00 a.m., and eventually everyone tried to get a leg up on each other in a mad rush to midnight openings.

Last year, for the first time, some of them (Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, and Toys ’R Us, to name a few) broke away from the pack and actually encroached on Thanksgiving by opening as early as 9:00 p.m. This year, Target is joining in the Thanksgiving Day fun by opening at 9:00 p.m. (they opened at midnight last year), but Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R Us are one-upping them by opening at 8:00 p.m.

So, let’s play a little guessing game: what time do you think the employees of Target, Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R Us, et al, are going to have to end the celebrations with their families in order to get to work?

Well, if the stores are opening at 8:00, they will have to be there no less than one hour earlier—probably more. So that puts us at, what, 6:00 or 7:00 at the very latest? And that’s assuming they don’t try to get any sleep before staying up all night to work the sale. Some stores will probably want their tryptophan-befuddled workers in even earlier than that. I remember last year that stores made employees start at 8:00 for a midnight opening—so what’s that, 4:00 or 5:00 for an 8:00 opening?

I’m wondering if this bothers anyone else.

Well, my guess is that it does. I bet it bothers a lot of people. But I’m also guessing it doesn’t bother enough people. You see, these stores have already done their research. They’ve crunched the numbers. They’re really good at that, those people who run big stores. They crunch a lot of numbers all the time. Numbers tell them all sorts of useful things—like how many people will show up if they open at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The numbers probably also tell them how many people they will piss off by opening at 8:00 on Thanksgiving. But the fact that they’re opening at 8:00 on Thanksgiving anyway suggests that the numbers are telling them the people who will show up and risk getting trampled for a hot new smart phone faaaaaar outnumber the people who will be pissed off.

Bottom line: they’ll make a gazillion dollars by opening at 8:00 and the people they pissed off will probably still come shop there later on. And they’re probably right. I’m pissed off, but I’m not sure I’m prepared to boycott Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, AND Toys ‘R Us. I have people to shop for—and all the stuff they want is at those stores.

So I don’t blame the companies for this. They’re in business of making money. They’re going to chase those dollars. They have to. You can’t expect a dog not to hunt.

And much as I’d like to, I’m not going to blame the shoppers either, because that won’t solve anything. Instead of placing blame, I am simply going to appeal to all of you on behalf of all the employees of Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys ‘R Us. Please…please…please think about the people who are going to have to give up precious time with their families on Thanksgiving. Put yourself in their shoes. How would it feel to get up from the dinner table and instead of hanging out in the living room watching the Lions game with everyone else, you had to leave to go get ready for work?

I have heard a lot of people say, “well, some of those people want to work. They want that overtime or holiday pay.” Others say, “well, police and firefighters and nurses have had to work Thanksgiving for years.”

Which are all wonderful justifications for going out shopping on Thanksgiving evening, which is what those people really want to do—and without feeling guilty about it.

But I’m not going to do it. I’m also not going to go to the movies, or run to the grocery store for a gallon of milk—because I don’t think those places should be open either.

Hey, sorry police officers and firefighters and nurses—but you guys signed up for that gig. You guys knew that working holidays is part of the deal when you chose that career. And that’s a huge difference: you chose a career and went to school, in some cases for many years, to do what you do. Working holidays is a sacrifice, but for a higher ideal—to save lives and serve your community. Somehow, I don’t think that’s the case for most of the people working in retail.

So once again, please…please…please don’t shop on Thanksgiving. If no one shops before Friday, the number crunchers will find out. Oh, yes they will, because they are so very good at crunching numbers. And next year, just like magic, the early openings on Thanksgiving evening will disappear and folks can once again relax on the couch with their kids (and another piece of pie) and watch the Lions lose—a sacred American tradition.

The One Lovely Blog Award

Wow! Evidently, I have been nominated to receive the One Lovely Blog Award! This is by far the most prestigious award I have ever won for the work I have been doing on my blog for a little less than a year now. It also happens to be the only award I have won–but I am absolutely thrilled to accept it! Thank you to Yulia at Transition to Balance (http://transition2balance.wordpress.com/) for nominating me!

There are five steps that one must follow to accept the award. They are:

  1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you
  2. Post the award image on your blog
  3. Share seven facts about yourself
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award
  5. Contact the bloggers that you have chosen to let them know that they have been nominated

So, I have taken care of the first two. Here are seven facts about myself:

  1. I am married and have two daughters, Zoe (7) and Ellie (2). Daughters are quite a challenge, but they also bring me a great deal of joy!
  2. I am a teacher. I love watching light bulbs come on–especially when the students turn them on by themselves.
  3. I have been practicing aspects of Zen Buddhism for almost a year and a half. Although I know I am not supposed to expect results from the practice, I can’t help doing so. And sometimes I even see results (less road rage, more positive energy, fewer negative thoughts, being less judgmental). Other times, not so much. I guess that’s why they call it practice.
  4. I love baseball. I love everything about baseball. Baseball is life!
  5. Since I got turned on to jazz about four and a half years ago, I have listened to almost nothing else. I especially love the Second Great Quintet of Miles Davis (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams). And it’s interesting to me how much jazz, baseball, and Zen have in common.
  6. I started Zen Soapbox to see if it was possible to discuss the social and political issues of the day in a reasonable, thoughtful, non-judgmental, and positive manner. You tell me how I’m doing so far.
  7. I am trying to say “yes” more often (think Jim Carey in “The Yes Man”). Recently this led to my coaching my daughter’s softball team because they couldn’t get enough volunteer coaches. It was quite an enjoyable experience and I can’t wait to do it again!

Enough about me. Now, it’s time for me to nominate fifteen other blogs for the One Lovely Blog Award. As I was putting together this list, I noticed that a.) I could only come up with a list of 12 and that, b.) most of them (though not all) were Zen-related in some way. Taken together, these two observations lead me to conclude that I need to get out more. In the blogosphere, I mean. 🙂

These are all very lovely blogs, from which I have learned something, by which I have been inspired, or both.

Transition to Balance (http://transition2balance.wordpress.com/) – Honorary mention. She has already won the award.

The Daily Buddha (http://thedailybuddha.com/)

Zen Being (http://erranttranscendentalist.wordpress.com/)

istopforsuffering (http://istopforsuffering.wordpress.com/)

Mindfulbalance Blog (http://mindfulbalance.org/)

The Heart of the Matter (http://skyeblaine.wordpress.com/)

Standing in an Open Field (http://standinginanopenfield.wordpress.com/)

Zendictive http://zendictive.wordpress.com/

Sky Diaries http://skydiaries.wordpress.com/

The Zenful Blogger (http://zenfuldance.wordpress.com/)

oneBREATHmeditation (http://onebreathmeditation.wordpress.com/)

Namaste Consulting, Inc. (http://namasteconsultinginc.com/)

As I mentioned, this is my first blogging award, but several of the blogs I follow have won one at one time or another. The thing I like most about these awards is that I get exposed to some really cool blogs that I might not otherwise discover. So I’m hoping that someone reading this will explore and enjoy these other fine blogs as I have.

Happiness and peace!


A faulty basic belief

A faulty basic belief.

This is reblogged from “Mindfulbalance Blog.” It really said something I needed to hear today. Enjoy!


The Motor City Madman and the Histrionics of Political Discourse

Ted Nugent, multi-platinum recording artist and avid collector of firearms, is going to be questioned by the Secret Service this week. It seems they would like The Nuge to clarify some cryptic remarks he made recently. Speaking at the NRA convention in St. Louis last weekend, Nugent said, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” The Motor City Madman says the remark was not meant as a threat, but evidently the Secret Service isn’t taking any chances.

I recently saw a Facebook post in which the author said they feared for the very existence of our country and feared for their life if President Obama were to be re-elected.

I realize that these examples are extreme, but if you listen to the words being spoken in public by people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, etc., you quickly realize that they are not as far on the fringe as one would like to believe. If you spend any amount of time perusing Facebook or the comment section at the bottom of any online news piece, that impression is only reinforced.

There are examples of extreme language that come from the left as well, including the occasional charge of Fascism or comparisons to Hitler. There is a lunatic fringe on the left of the Democratic Party that can be every bit as irrational and histrionic as anything coming from the right.

But I’m not here to point fingers or assign blame or make judgments. I want to talk about what we can do to change this.

I think that most reasonable people will agree with me that the world as we know it will not end if President Obama is re-elected in November. I think those same reasonable people would also agree that it will not be an apocalyptic catastrophe if Mitt Romney is elected. Can we start there?

If we’re good so far, let’s try this: President Obama does not hate America. He is not trying to destroy America or any of its institutions. He is not trying to destroy the free market system and he is not trying to create a Neo-Communist form of government that just sends checks to people so they can sit on their lazy rear ends and never have to work another day in their lives.

Likewise, Mitt Romney is not Satan incarnate. He does not hate America. He is not trying to destroy the American economy and he is not trying to establish a Neo-Fascist form of government that serves only the elite 1% and seeks to relegate the rest of us to abject poverty.

If we can’t agree on this, we should just stop here and go home to start stocking up on antibiotics and shotgun shells. My heart tells me, though, that a vast majority of Americans can come at least this far.

And if they can come this far, it is only one more short step to say, “I know so-and-so is not actively trying to destroy America, but I disagree profoundly with his policies. I believe that his policies may have a damaging—perhaps even a disastrous—effect on our economy. I believe that he is leading us in the wrong direction and I urgently hope that his opponent is elected to the presidency in November.”

I think that would be okay. Nothing wrong with that, so far. The problem comes just after that, when someone adds, “So I’m going to do everything in my power—up to and including assassination—to see that he is not elected/re-elected. I will sacrifice my eldest son if necessary to thwart my opponent’s policies, even if they are beneficial to our country or the economy, and even if by thwarting his policies I do more damage to the nation and the economy than his policy would have done in the first place. I will burn this country to the ground with righteous anger before I allow my opponent or his kind to hold power. I will call them Nazis and Communists and Terrorists and accuse them of the most heinous crimes against humanity that I can conceive of. I will lie, cheat, steal, and obfuscate, and I will not stop until my opponent and all of his followers are left whimpering in the dirt, destitute, humiliated, and in utter despair.”

That’s the problem.

So, can we not take that next step? Can we stop with, “I profoundly disagree with you?” After the election, all the same problems we have now will still exist, regardless of who is elected. And we will still have to live with each other.

The Papa Gathas

So the first thing I should probably explain for my non-Zen audience is what a gatha is. A gatha is essentially a short verse that can be recited during daily activities to help maintain mindfulness. A perfect example is the following gatha, written by Thich Nhat Hahn, and included in his book, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment. This gatha is to be used just before driving the car:

Driving a Car

Before starting the car,
I know where I am going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast;
If the car goes slowly, I go slowly.

Another good example is this one, also from Thich Nhat Hahn (all the ones I use are from him), which is to be used while washing dishes:

Washing the Dishes

Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.

You get the idea. We recite these verses to help keep our minds on where we ar–in the present moment–rather than letting our minds drift off to what we have to do at work tomorrow, or what we have to get at the grocery store. The idea is, while washing the dishes we should just wash the dishes.

So, I decided to compose a couple of my own to use while I am performing my daily duties as a father. There didn’t seem to be any parent-specific ones in Present Moment, Wonderful Moment (and why would there be? Nhat Hahn is not married and has no children), so I adapted a couple of the ones in the book for my more specific needs. Here are a couple I have come up with so far:

Cleaning Applesauce

There is applesauce in her hair

And in the carpet.

How wonderful it is to scrub and clean.


Coming Downstairs

Small legs need more time

To take big steps.

With each step, a gentle wind blows;

With each step, a flower blooms.


Changing Diapers

In the poop I smell a rose,

In a rose I know there is poop.

Everything is in transformation.

Even permanence is impermanent.


During an Argument

May my words create mutual understanding and love.

May they be as beautiful as gems,

Even though my daughter does not listen,

And must sit in time out.


Once I have written all the gathas one will ever need as a parent, I will collect them into a volume called, The Papagathas. (Look for it at your local bookstore.) Some of you will recognize this as a reference to Tathagata—which has nothing whatsoever to do with gathas, but which works as a nice play on words for me. And I will spare you the explanation of what Tathagata is. If you already know, great. If you don’t, that’s okay; you don’t need to. And if you want to, you will look it up.

As always, thank you for reading this far. Be at peace. 🙂


This is wonderful. What a great illustration of why we should suspend judgment (and assume innocence!). We never have all the facts. I’m going to try to start looking at things as if there is a duck–even when I don’t know if there is one or not. 🙂

Facebook Zen

Have you ever been scrolling through Facebook and found yourself wondering, “Why on earth am I doing this?”

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you had back all the hours you lost on Facebook?

Now, let me say right up front that this post is not intended to criticize or vilify Facebook or its users in any way. Chances are, if you are reading this post, you got here via Facebook. Facebook is a fine medium for interaction between people who may or may not interact otherwise, or who want to share their lives with their friends and family. But it is also something that can be a drain on the mind and the soul—a hole down which we can sink many hours that could be spent doing something more worthwhile.

It can also be an opportunity to practice compassion.

When I first created my Facebook account about a year ago (yes, I’m a late bloomer), I went through a “honeymoon phase.” Did anyone else have one of those? Where you obsessively check Facebook a couple dozen times a day? (And looking back now, for the life of me I can’t imagine why I did that! But at the time, I just had to!)

It doesn’t take long for that to wear off, though (unless you get hooked on the games—which I thankfully avoided) and then there’s a big crash and you enter the Uggh-I-hate-Facebook phase. You spend less and less time on it until one day you realize that you haven’t even looked at it for three or four days.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but one of the reasons I became disillusioned by Facebook was that I started to notice how much negativity there was on there. Maybe I had overlooked all of that during the honeymoon phase (that is, after all, the definition of a honeymoon phase), but eventually it caught up to me and became overwhelming. There were all these posts complaining about the weather, complaining about work, complaining that it wasn’t the weekend yet, complaining about health issues, life sucks, pity me, boo-hoo-hoo. It started to make me feel tired and worn down and it became very annoying.

But we’ve all been through the cycle before—the extremes of the “obsession-with-a-new-toy” to the backlash of loathing and avoidance—and we all know that eventually we achieve equilibrium. This happened for me when I started to notice again that there was also a lot of positive out there on Facebook: people sharing pictures of their kids, pictures of their vacations, birthday greetings to friends and family, comments on their favorite TV shows, movies, bands, etc. That was when I realized (or remembered, anyway) that you find what you’re looking for. If you look for positive, you’ll find positive; but if you look for negativity, that is what you will surely find.

This was fairly early on in my Zen practice, but I was starting to see some fruit from it already! What a revelation! So, I started ignoring all the negative posts and I made a vow to only post positive things myself and to acknowledge positive posts with “Likes” and comments. Once I started this blog, I amended that to only posting about things—especially negative things, like capital punishment—in a positive manner. That’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

Then I learned about Metta and Tonglen from a Zen priest.

For those of you who are not familiar with Buddhist practice, Metta is the practice of “loving kindness.” It’s very simple. Basically, one wishes well for others. You think of a person and say, “May so-and-so be happy; may they be at peace.” Formally, it involves repeating this phrase as you work through a list, starting with the household pet and moving through other family members, someone about whom you have no strong feelings—either positive or negative, a difficult person, everyone in the city where you live, everyone in the United States, everyone in the world, and finally, all sentient beings in the universe.

I really enjoy this practice. It’s simple and, like any true “practice,” it helps to build the habit of compassion for others—which has not always come so easily to me.

Tonglen is a related but very different practice. It is a Tibetan Buddhist practice which is also designed to develop and enhance compassion. In Tonglen, you literally breathe in and imagine taking in all the pain and suffering you encounter—then breathe back out peace and happiness. I’ll often say the same thing as I do in metta when I do this: “May so-and-so be at ease; may they be at peace.”

So I started using these practices in my daily life and one day I had a revelation: what if I brought my Metta and Tonglen practice to Facebook? Now, each time I check in on Facebook and I see a post about something bad that has happened to someone, or about how their job or their life just generally sucks, I breathe it in, then breathe happiness and peace back out toward them and recite, “May so-and-so be happy; may they be at peace.” It feels a hell of a lot better than what I used to think and feel when I saw negative stuff on Facebook.

Now, Zen practice is not magic. There are no spells and I am not a sorcerer. I don’t think or pretend that so-and-so is actually going to be happy or at peace because I recite my little phrase. And I don’t think a powerful being somewhere is going to make so-and-so peaceful and happy because I ask nicely. No, the change is in me. As I repeat this practice again and again, over (hopefully) many years and decades, it will gradually make me more compassionate—no matter how stubbornly I may resist.

I can actually feel the change already—even after such a short time. I’m not as easily annoyed as I used to be (which is not the same thing as saying I don’t get annoyed) and I am starting to recognize that some of the things that annoy me are just manifestations of suffering and that the best thing I can do to help create positive energy in the universe, is to show some compassion. The idea is if all of use create as much positive energy as possible and as little negative energy as possible, every one of us will benefit and the world will be a better place. (Yes, I know I’ve got a little bit of a hippy thing going on.)

So the next time you check Facebook and you read a post about how miserable it is to exist, try smiling, breathing in all that misery, and breathing back out a little happiness.

And if you have read this far, may you be happy; may you be at peace. 🙂


Here is a little “pearl of wisdom” I found on “The Book of Guff.” Check it out!

The Book Of Guff

Remember how pearls are formed. Always be grateful to people who irritate you, for they are providing you with the opportunity to grow the precious pearl of patience.

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