Another Contemplation

Coffee tastes awful this morning, angry at filling a cup when it could have stayed comfortably unbrewed. Yet, still I drink it. It’s a habit, a ritual. I think, for a moment, that I rarely pay much attention to the flavor, but I realize that is not true. Sometimes I relish the bitterness that is softened a little when I allow the cup to cool just a shade. But when I rush to drink it, the liquid is too hot to cushion the bite. That’s when, like this morning, the brew feels and tastes caustic, as if I am its enemy. And perhaps I am.

It is possible that I have allowed a restless night to stay with me. Just as I was returning to bed from a 1:00 p.m. pee, the NOAA weather radio let loose with the first of four or five screams of the night, warning me of approaching thunderstorms with wind and hail that could damage roofs, cars, siding, and trees. It seemed that, thereafter, every time I had almost drifted off to sleep, the radio emitted another ear-piercing noise. It hasn’t been many days since I wrote another complaint about the NOAA radio. This time, I vacillated between unplugging the monster and crushing it under multiple blows from a sledgehammer. I did neither. So, at 5:00 a.m., I got out of bed. I took my morning pills and combed my unruly hair. And now, an hour later, I sit writing about the same damn thing, again and again. In the intervening period, I made coffee and read about last night’s collapse of a subway overpass in Mexico City, killing 23 and injuring 70 or more. That chilling news should have lessened my concern with the coffee. But the two mental processes are quite different; one personal and intimate, the other distant and, though cataclysmic, removed from my immediate experience.


My calendar today is empty so far, but I have plenty to do if I can summon the discipline to do it. Taxes. Masses of paper to sort and file. Boxes of paper to shred. Walls to paint. Windows to clean. Floors to sweep. The list is a long as the sun is hot. But I have chosen not to calendar those functions because a full calendar would interfere with my shiftlessness. There was a time when I would have attacked those needs with a vengeance.  Now, though, I realize how little they matter. Taxes are the only ones with potentially consequential impacts if I were to elect to ignore them. The rest: they’ll wait. Even until the end of time or a little later. Yet doing those chores might improve my mood. It could use improvement. It’s not my mood so much that needs improvement. It’s my personality. And improvement may not be the word for it. Replacement, perhaps. A sunny disposition. I am not always this morose. But, usually? I don’t know.


Lately, I’ve been daydreaming quite a lot. I imagine taking long road trips, but those dreams are not as satisfying as they once were because I am so conscious of the fact that they would be lonely. I keep revisiting that fact. On the one hand, hours and hours of driving with nothing to distract from my thoughts, other than avoiding collisions, has enormous appeal. On the other, the comfort of having a companion sitting silently next to me would be missing. That fact, alone, would make the trip longer and less fulfilling. The moment of checking into a motel along the road would initiate a seemingly endless period of time of utter solitude in an unfamiliar place. By the time the morning came around, I would be desperate to leave the emptiness of a strange room where only strangers, before me, have slept.

As I contemplate this dreariness of my imagined travel, my eyes fall upon a page from my book, The Essence of Zen, causing me to think in a different way.

The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeking new landscapes
but in having new eyes.

~ Marcel Proust ~

I need to remake my eyes. Give them the ability to see and feel beauty in the mundane world around me. That thought leads me to thumb through my book again. This time, I find another pearl that forces me to think in perfect circles; or maybe it’s spherical thinking:

There are
no mundane things outside of Buddhism,
and there is
no Buddhism outside of mundane things.

~ Yuan Wu ~

I could transcribe the entire book in an effort to remake myself. But of course I would still be the same man with the same blemishes and the same attributes. It’s possible that I would better understand them, though, and may be willing to forgive some of the worst flaws. Yet I’ve had the book on my desk for years and have read every word in it many times. A couple of years ago, I extracted the following from Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart, and incorporated it into a blog post:

What makes maitri [the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness toward oneself] such a different approach is that we are not trying to solve a problem. We are not striving to make pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart. This starts with realizing that whatever occurs is neither the beginning nor the end. It is just the same kind of normal human experience that’s been happening to everyday people from the beginning of time. Thoughts, emotions, moods, and memories come and they go, and basic nowness is always here.

To date, I have failed the lesson. I keep returning to it, attempting to absorb it, and then promptly replacing it not with loving kindness toward myself but with loathing. The twists and turns in my psyche are like switchbacks on an extraordinarily steep trail.


My house smells like roasted chicken thighs. Despite a modest concern that I had left them, thawed, in the refrigerator for too long, I cooked them last night and ate them. So far, no untoward after-effects of the meal, so I think I’m safe. Today, I will oven-roast a chunk of pork tenderloin which will make at least two or three (or more) meals. I brined the pork all day yesterday and last night, so it should be beyond ready to cook. I’ll find out later whether my brining and today’s slathering with a spicy rub will result in a tasty outcome.


It is almost 7 now, time to stop ruminating and musing and, instead, get to work. I have a dishwasher to unload, hummingbird feeders to hang, and breakfast to make.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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