Archive for April, 2010

I think I finally ‘groked’ something that had been eluding me for the past several years.  ‘Grok’ if you are not familiar with it, comes from Robert Heinline’s classic sci-fi novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’.  It means ‘to understand something at the deepest level’.

My realization came while stripping the paint and varnish off of the gaff spar of my traditional sail boat.  This is a slow and painful process which can take days and days to complete.

On a wooden spar, they typically paint the ends of the spar with white paint, and varnish the center part.  I noticed that the varnish in the middle part had failed badly and that the wood was discolored and somewhat damaged by water incursion.  The sections that were covered by white paint were pristine.  Oh, there had been a few cracks in the paint, but very little water had gotten in, and the wood is in very good shape.

They paint the ends of the spars with white paint for precisely this reason… the paint holds up better, and longer, to protect the wood.  So, they put paint on the very ends of the spars, where the end grain could act like straws and suck up moisture, inducing the spar to rot from within.

So, why not paint the whole spar white?  Wouldn’t this protect the wood best?  Yes!  The answer, though, is vanity.  Nothing looks prettier than a large varnished chunk of wood.  If you have a boat with large wooden spars, masts, hand-holds, toe rails, hatch covers, a boomkin or a bowsprit, you want to show them off!  And so you spend hundreds of hours (or thousands of dollars) applying coat after coat of clear varnish, so that people can see the beauty of the wood underneath.

The problem is that varnish is short-lived.  Every six months or so, you have to touch it up and re-apply a few new coats.  And, if you don’t, then within a year or two at most, it will totally fail, making it necessary for you to take the piece back to the bare wood (which requires the painful stripping process referenced above) and start all over again.

Unless you have deep pockets, you end up doing most of this work yourself.  And given the amount of time it takes per year, it comes out to roughly ALL THE FREE SAILING TIME YOU HAVE.  So, either, you spend all season keeping your boat looking nice, or, you actually get to take it out sailing once in a while, but then it suffers from the elements.

All for what?  Vanity.  All because varnished wood looks so much better. It’s not better for the wood, or the boat, or your pocketbook, or your social calendar… but for the people standing around looking at your boat; for the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ coming from the assembled masses, and from yourself!

Vanity is one of the Seven Deadly Sins to the Catholics among us, and in Buddhism, it is recognized as a form of attachment, which ultimately brings pain and suffering.  Bingo!  If I were planning to keep my boat for a long time, I think I would paint every piece of varnished wood.  Then sail the boat for a couple of years without having to worry about it.  Touching up paint is a breeze, so I might not ever have to take the piece back to the bare wood again!

However, I’m planning on selling it… so, I won’t.  Some fresh varnish might appeal to someone else’s vanity, sigh.


Read Full Post »

All the ‘good’ books, tell you to live ‘in the present moment’, which sounds like a really great idea.  But, you can’t help but live in the present moment, because that is where you always are anyway, so, it is impossible NOT to BE in the present moment in ordinary attention.

Though, sometimes, in our present moment, we are reminiscing about the past, or dreaming about the future, you have to consider that this is just a quality of the present moment.  ie, ‘in this present moment I am reflecting upon the past’.  Since this comes so naturally to us, I have a hard time labeling it as ‘bad’.

Personally, I think we have to transcend the present moment.  Sort of fly up and look down upon it from above.  From that vantage  point, you realize that it doesn’t matter what is taking place in your present moment.  There is a larger context to consider.

The only analogy I can come up with is a book.  A book has a first paragraph, and a last paragraph, and several other words and paragraphs and chapters  in between.  As you are reading the book, you are focused in on a particular chapter/paragraph/word of the story (your present moment).  But, the story already exists, in a complete form; the beginning is set, the ending is known, it is sitting there, complete on your desk.  You are just temporarily indexed into a specific section of it.

If you could zoom out and see the book on your desk, you’d know that every word is important to the paragraph, and every paragraph to the chapter, and every chapter to the book.  And, there are all sorts of crazy things happening in all of these chapters, some good, some bad… but they are all part of the overall plot.

We can’t say that any behavior in the present moment is good or bad, because we don’t yet know the whole story.  It could be, that in Chapter 3, it is necessary to reminisce about the past, so as to fill in the back story of the plot so that Chapter 4 makes sense.

The really interesting thing is that this story we are living has an infinite number of endings.  At every moment, every decision we make branches down a different logic path and a different group of possible outcomes is selected.  This is ‘Free Will’ in action.  We’re choosing our path through the story line… but we can’t make a wrong choice.  Every possibility has already been factored in… simply put, some stories will end more happily than others.

So dream of the future, or reminisce about the past, or walk through the beautiful woods and smell the air in the present moment!  But whatever you do, pay attention to the story.  That is all that is important.  Don’t drift off and live life, like it is the TV, playing something in the background that you are not really paying attention to.

Read Full Post »