Sansaku: Temptation


I hadn’t expected Ken to die so suddenly. I thought his wife was sure to go before him. She was in the hospital when I called to tell her. She couldn’t understand and the dementia flared. I said repeatedly, “He didn’t want to leave you.”

I’d been taking care of them. Neither recognized how much help they needed and now that I was getting ready for school told Ken I needed to find a replacement. It took a few days to convince him.

It was all about the mystery of aging for me. It seems so slow and goes so fast. I was in awe of the process and hoped I’d have some grace when my time came.

I tried to find someone who could handle two people who were badly in need of mental and physical attention, but didn’t want any help. I finally located a lovely young woman who was also a nurse’s aide. Ken could easily afford the expense, but kept asking, “How much?” And then responding, “That’s too much.”

Money is always symbolic and carries all kinds of karma. Ken worked hard, made a lot of money, and since he’d come of age in the great depression, financial security mattered.   He measured it by his bank account. I wanted them to move into assisted living, but that was out of the question. He’d lived here fifty years.

The night before the aide arrived and I was getting ready to say good-night and leave, he complained and said, “Aren’t you going to fix it?” I asked him, “Fix what?”   He repeated, a little less patient, “You know.” I had no idea what he was talking about. He acted like I was being contrary or slow.

I went around the house looking for clues. It was dark by now and I turned lights on and off as I entered the small maze of rooms. I flicked the switch in the main bathroom and the light was burned out. I asked him, “Is this what you want me to fix?” He looked at me and the look seemed to say, “Isn’t that obvious, you idiot.” It was all very strange.

I changed the bulb and said I’d visit in the morning. I planned to arrive before the aide and make sure he was up and ready. But I saw her pulling up as I approached the house. His door was already open.   I thought he’d be waiting in the living room. He wasn’t there.

I knew immediately something was wrong. I looked around and saw the light in the bathroom, the bulb I changed was the only light turned on in the house. My hair stood up as I walked in and found him.

I made calls to the relatives and authorities. I did what I had to do except for one thing. I knew the secret hiding place. There was only one other person who knew of its existence, but she was senile and no one really listened or believed her.

They had a large walk-in closet with its own light. I can still smell the talcum powder and see the wall of shoeboxes, many as old as the owners. One of those boxes had a pair of ruby red slippers, just like the ones Dorothy wore. But that’s not the secret. Under the white tissue at the bottom of the box was nine thousand dollars in cash. I know because I counted it.

No need to beat around the bush, I seriously considered taking some. The temptation was strong and I went back and forth along the edge. I went so far as to take some home, but Edgar Allan Poe was watching and the money made loud noises in the drawer.

I told a number of friends and a number of them said, “Take the cash. I would.” Even his brother in Texas had given me instructions on what to take and why I shouldn’t tell anyone. “It’s what he’d want.” He knew how close and how much time I’d spent. He all but said I deserved it.

I wasn’t so sure. Ken was funny about money.

I couldn’t wait for the relatives to arrive. They had no children and since he died first, it all went to her side. I told them immediately about the shoebox. They were grateful and trusted me.

I was grateful they still could, it was close call for me. I know that money carries karma. It matters how you get it, how much, and definitely how you spend it. We have all kinds of rationalizations and defenses. I’d already worked out mine.

Chyako recently gave a talk on Buddha’s path of liberation and one of the eight is right livelihood. What do we do to get money? It’s quite a touchy topic.

When I told her about my conflict with taking the cash, it was clear she considered it stealing. She wasn’t as pleased as I’d been with myself; in fact, she was a little disappointed I could even be tempted.   But I’m not Japanese.




Perfect Magic

Sansaku: Perfect Magic


A group of us went through the same schools from the start of kindergarten to our high school graduation. Then, like seeds, we dispersed. After college, I only returned to visit the family.

I hadn’t given much thought to the old neighborhood friends when the announcement arrived. I decided to go to my 20th reunion.   While I had known everyone well in grade school, that changed with the years. I wondered if we’d recognize each other.

One of the girls had been picked-on and teased by a friend of mine. I worried she might remember me this way. But when she saw me, she came up and said, “You still look the same.” My first surprise.

After the usual question and answer routine, she confessed, “There’s a reason I wanted to come.” She talked about Tom, how mean he’d been. Since we’d all grown-up together, I knew exactly what she meant. She called it an insult to her self-esteem. She always was intelligent. I felt like a guilty accomplice, the bystander to a crime.

That’s when Tom spotted us. He didn’t hesitate. We watched as he walked through the crowd. Karen told me, “I’m nervous.” I felt the tension. This could be high drama.

Tom greeted me in the same way she had, “You still look the same.” But he was looking at Karen. In his most sincere and convincing of voices he said, “You’re the reason I wanted to come. I need to apologize. I’m ashamed of what I did.”

This stunned us both. She looked at me. No words were needed to mark the miracle.

He didn’t go into detail, but made it clear he’d thought about it plenty. He hoped she could forgive him. There was a great deal of space in the silence that followed. Even the light stood still and seemed to be a medium of existence. Something important just happened and I felt the freedom that comes from releasement.

Karen accepted his apology and added a few words of her own. After Tom walked away she said, “I’m almost disappointed. I’ve been waiting for years to garner the courage and now I find he’s changed. He’s not the same person and neither am I.” I was feeling privileged.

We talked about being small and what we suffered. She called it helplessness. I knew she knew my family situation and the poverty I tried to hide back then. I was a proud little kid.

She said, “We expect so much from the world and each other.” There was still a feeling of great opening and space. She was taking her time. “We are horribly disappointed and let-down by life, but then we discover in a moment like this one, it’s given us so much more.”

Magic is all about the connections between mind and matter. She had thought about Tom and he thought about her. They drew each other together. The script looked spiritual.

Karen taught literature at a college back east and had a number of beautiful kids. Tom had become an eccentric genius who lived in the Utah hills. Why didn’t my adult form surprise them?

To be honest, they didn’t surprise me either. I recognized both of them instantly and could see the roots to their being. I’m sure they could see my own. Looking back the patterns come early.

There’s a magic to the ending of stories and the beginnings to new ones. It’s a transformative moment and everything depends on it. This happened to be a perfect one.





Sansaku: Postcards


Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly. I knew this from school, but not the lily for which the street is named – which is found between two other flower streets, Bluebell and Columbine. Chautauqua was at the top and Broadway at the bottom. It’s ten blocks long.

We had a perfect view of the Flatirons, but also the eastern sky. I’ve watched those big moons rise, some yellow and others bone-white. In summer, the sun wallows husky and heavy. The air seems thick. It’s thin and blue in winter. The shadows come fast.

Our lives are less like stories and more like landscapes. We’re worlds with landmarks and features that change with relationships and moods. We have different eyes and ears depending. Looking back at Mariposa, it’s not what happened. I see a climate and possibilities.

I was born in northeastern Colorado and moved to the southwest corner of the state. That says little in itself. It needs context like a dream. I was born into a family, but I married a country along with the woman. Talk about a landscape. I have a journal full of postcards.

Chyako began her days at the Marvel studio with a warm-up exercise and ritual discipline. She threw a set number of rice bowls. They soon stacked up on the shelves. She sold many and many she gave away. Some she never glazed. She’s still throwing them.

I mail postcards called sansaku.

When I was a gypsy bum and lived on the road, I also had a ritual. I jumped in cold water. I did this every day and used a shower if I couldn’t find a pool. I’ve jumped into ice-crusted lakes and the Animas in winter. The plunge wasn’t easy, but only at first. I’m grateful.

Five years ago, we sat with Joel and Shelley at a reading. Joel was introducing Terry Tempest Williams. She’d just published When Women Were Birds. There’s a central image she explored like a landscape. Her mother kept journals all her life and stacked them on a shelf. They piled up and Terry considered them her legacy.

When her mother died, she opened them. She’d honored these sacred texts her entire life and the one thing she’d never considered, they were empty. Not a word, her mother kept it all inside. She wouldn’t do the same. Terry has opened herself and lets everyone read.

Writers know you must read several books by the same writer to hear the voice and vision. That’s how style shows. Terry’s true to form and anyone who knows Chyako would recognize the form of her pottery in her yunomi cups or rice bowls. Her consciousness shows through.

Sansaku is similar, but it’s not about the writing. I do my best to make it pretty, like my hair. It’s a style, how I look. I’m not a pro and don’t write like one. It’s too tight and constraining. I’m trying to open and trust in the process, the ritual. I want it intimate, personal, vulnerable and free. Cromwell told the artist, “Paint me, warts and all.”

My inner world is not a story, but a landscape. Moods and context matter as much in this reality as the place and direction. For example, health and sickness are not opposites. I’ve been sick when I was healthy and healthy when sick. Location is a matter of being.

I try to center each morning by stopping the car and pulling over to the side of the road. I get out and start walking. Sansaku. When I see where I am, I stop. Knees to the ground, my head to the earth, I get as close as I can. It looks like prayer. When I see inside, I close my eyes.

These pages I write, I read at the speed of a heart-to-heart talk with myself. I stop to sip tea. That’s when I look out the window.






Sansaku: Kinnikinnick


I grew up in a family where the gift of a good memory mattered. Being the youngest with the least history, I’ve had to work to hold my own. How memory lays down is mysterious, but so is the way it stands. I walk with mine these days.

Lately I’ve been walking in Chautauqua. It’s not about the trail.

When I was eighteen and about to graduate from high school, we watched the news every night. Garon and Sheryll were gone. George sat on the big chair, Mom and I on the sofa. We ate off of trays.

It was all about Viet Nam and social unrest. There were protests every day. I walked through the university coming home from school. The students gathered at the courtyard fountain and demonstrated. Cambodia had just been invaded and things were falling apart.

I listened to the speeches and they made it obvious which side I wanted to be on. The news was so impersonal it pissed me off.   George made comments. He wasn’t on my side. Mother kept the peace.

Each evening, I took a long walk after dinner. We lived three blocks from the cemetery. I wondered if some of the old gravestones had been crafted and sold by my grandfather. The business had bothered my dad when he was eighteen. I liked it.

We’d always lived close to a cemetery and my elementary school bordered the oldest one in Boulder. My brother and I used to cut through at night. We had some moments there.

The cemetery was the gateway to the mesa that looks over Boulder. I took my time walking past those monuments to life. A famous physicist was buried there, Gamov, his tombstone was a bench and I often sat on it. I was learning to court a higher mood.

Once I started climbing the steep hill, I didn’t stop until I reached the top. I liked the exercise and training. My mind voice was quiet. I walked with intent. My body, it felt good.

There was a certain rock at the edge of the mesa; it’s where I liked to sit. I loved looking down and out across the city. It seemed seamless and smooth. I knew that was a fiction. I lived there.

Many nights I watched the sunset and the eerie glow that came from Denver, the string of traffic lights connecting us. The cars looked small and slow. Time opened.

I began to care about language in high school. I sensed a secret there. I could be living a story and this was the narrative.   Since I’d been reading Hesse, I saw myself as a character who was just waking up. Why hadn’t I seen before what was written between the lines?

I didn’t keep a journal then, but that’s what I was doing. I talked to myself, told stories, and did my best to live the questions I was asking. It begins with the Word, and consciousness is symbolized by language. I was listening for the voice.

Mine said to turn around and walk into the dark of the forest. I knew the way by heart, but looked for the ghost-line, the faint white haze that marks the trail at night. I followed it across the mesa and down the slanting slope into Chautauqua.

Kinnikinnick. I loved the sound of that sweet street and the bearberry plant that grows in the foothills. I knew the native people smoked it. Say it fast and several times to get the rhythm rolling. I used to chant it as I walked home on Mariposa. Our sweet street named for a wild and native lily. My parents now watching the ten o’clock news.




Three Places of Stuckness

Sansaku: Three Places of Stuckness


Stuckness reflects and reveals who we are, and I look a lot like Chautauqua. It’s on the edge of the city and wilds. Perched on a high point, looking down on the town, it was slightly run-down back then and had not been discovered. We lived on three separate streets and all of them ended at Chautauqua.   We were never far away.

Boulder itself is on the edge. On one side, it’s nestled up against the mountains, the foothills and high Rockies. On the other, the sun and moon rise over the great plains and prairie. The land of buffalo. This was Boulder on the edge of the psychedelic Sixties. Our crazy and colorful dad was always on the edge. I stood back and watched.

I’m stuck on the family, our history, childhood, and coming of age. It’s a geographic place with great topography. I had four primary role models, two of each gender and highly contrasting. They showed me the way, what it meant to be human, a man.

We had a silent partner in the business. Far away in Arizona, he was always in the shadows. People felt sorry for us, but we didn’t miss the drama. We missed the good times. I waited patiently, knowing someday I’d get the stories.

While we didn’t have much money, we had what we needed. We might have lived close to the bone, but our appetites were good. Besides, our mother was one of the best cooks in Boulder. Raised on a ranch during dustbowl days, she had secrets. Garon and I had money from the paper-route, we bought what we wanted.

Helplessness and no sense of connection are hazardous to psychological health. I felt far from helpless and was completely connected. I wasn’t as smart as my brother or best friend, but I didn’t envy them, I was strong and fast. They were clearly more evolved than I. Maybe that’s why I studied them. I like smart people.

I also studied my Scorpio sister.   She was big-cat beautiful, eight years older, at the top of the food chain, and predatory from my point of view. I tried to be careful. She wasn’t a Leo, she was much more mysterious than that. She dated college boys when still in high school. What she did with them was a source of fascination.

I have one more place of stuckness growing up in Boulder. Down below our house, on the edge of another hill, was the University of Colorado.   Mother worked there and our parents had met and fallen in love during college. I didn’t associate college with studying and school. The college kids I knew were wild and free, and what I hoped to be some day.

When I look at my life and self, I see the start in the relationships with Boulder, Chautauqua, and family. I’m remembering the wise man who said, “We won’t be grateful when we’re happy, we’ll be happy when we’re grateful.” This is why I had a happy childhood. I was grateful, but I needed the word and how to perceive it.

My best friend said something. He wanted to trade for my brother. At first this was hard to understand. His brother was the left-handed first baseman on the high school team. Mine was straight-A smart, read books, and played piano. He also played with us.

When my friend said, “Do you know how nice your brother is?” I’d never really thought about it. There’s so many things we take for granted. That’s what gratitude is for.

Maybe we weren’t as happy as Garon and I remember, and maybe it’s a defense, but you won’t convince us. Both of us are grateful for those Chautauqua days. He’s as stuck as I am.







Sansaku: Stuckness


My memory is far from fixed and Chautauqua is a prime example. It’s changing once again, growing larger. I recite the names of the rocks: King’s, Queen’s, Submarine, Tomato, Royal Arches and, of course, the Flatirons. I can’t picture Boulder without seeing those massive sandstone slabs on Green Mountain, just above Chautauqua.

Chautauqua was a symbol of my childhood and adolescence, the place I could go to be free, hang out or escape, and do whatever it was I wanted. The very opposite place for me was church, I hated to wear a coat and tie. It was a lot like school without recess. What’s the point of that? Recess was the most interesting part of my day.

I ran away three times in kindergarten, twice from church and once from school. I headed to Chautauqua.   There were hide-outs down by Bluebell Creek and another secret one, a giant juniper bush that grew close to the road where I could see and not be seen.

I could get there in a few minutes from our house and when I wanted to be alone, I’d go. No one ever found me at the center of the maze. The bush had a beautiful rock hidden in the middle I could sit on. This joy I found, my escape into solitude, now strikes me as prophetic.

And the tallest slide and ultimate swing-set in Boulder were just off the main playground at Chautauqua and offered the best view of a very best view town. I looked down on the university and its sandstone architecture.   I didn’t know it then, but that was to be my next Chautauqua.

Soulscapes change and move on. I’m in one now. I look up and out the workshop window of my studio. A purple sky is blooming. I used to run away, no longer. I got away or maybe I arrived.

The sunrise this morning was slightly ominous. Something was up. When the sun finally showed, I could look straight at it. The air was thick and reminded me of wildfire. I studied the color carefully, it glowed blood-red then slowly turned to bronze. A perfectly round bulb behind some amber glass.

I woke up early today, like every day, and opened the door to the studio. A delicate waning moon left a subtle smile just above the horizon. Venus in all her amorous purity was close beside the lunar Cheshire cat. I felt the magic, like I did when running away.

I remembered what an old French priest said in a TED talk we listened to last year. “It’s not that we’ll be grateful when we’re happy, we’ll be happy when we’re grateful.” I told Chyako this morning as I kissed her awake, “I’m grateful.” She has no doubts, it’s true.

This ritual I live might seem stuck to some. But I like the spin both Suzuki and Robert Pirsig put on it. The art of Zen. Stuckness is good and not to be avoided. Trouble comes when we have all the solutions, when we are clever and think we know what’s needed.   Stuckness is the same as emptiness, beginner’s mind.

My memory is stuck on Chautauqua and for good reason, it’s holy ground. A number of first-time experiences and initiations happened there. It’s a cross-over place, where my childhood ended in both darkness and light. I said more than once, “Oh, now I get it.”

The first time I ever got stoned was on top of King’s Rock. My friend called it Chipmunk Rock. He lived in a different neighborhood, the one I moved to in junior high. Things no longer looked the same.

We still went to the movies, but I don’t remember the concession stand. I was stuck on a girl. We made-out under stars, without any words. I felt like a newborn, but not like a child.









Sansaku: Soulscapes


There are landmarks in the soul. One of mine looks like a dream, but also the hole in the basement wall where we lived. I was told not to go. In the dream, I found it connected me to other lives and worlds.

The same landmark was just up the street. Chautauqua Park remains one of Boulder’s greatest gifts to me. It sits on the boundary between imagination and memory. It’s where we played, explored, hunted butterflies and girls. I learned about trouble up there.

I liked those hard to-get-to places. I didn’t worry about the consequences then. I climbed too high, knowing full-well what it meant, it would be hard to come down. This was living.

All the while I was looking for that door into the more mysterious world I’d heard mentioned in the books my brother read aloud at night. I was weaned on science fiction and Oz. Because of him, I’ve always known wizards existed. He has the imaginative mind of a scientist at play.

But I was not a scientist and had to find my own way to magic. I wouldn’t have called it the psyche or unconscious, I didn’t know those words. I wasn’t even conscious of being conscious.

I was in fourth or fifth grade. I’d gone up to Chautauqua, which is also a summer resort, maybe with Garon or maybe alone, I don’t remember. I noticed something. I was looking up at the broad green porch of the Dining Hall. The sidewalk to the theater went right past it.

The porch itself looked out over Boulder. I wish I could paint the picture, it’s worth far more than a thousand words. We loved the mythic view and also the concession stand on the far end of the porch. Snow cones, taffy, cokes and candy bars. Food has never tasted better.

It was only open in the summer and every other night my brother and I would go up there to watch a movie and buy some treats at the stand. No longer paupers, we were princes and this was our domain.

I was aware that people dropped coins and some of those coins rolled through the narrow cracks between the boards and that part of the porch was closed-in underneath. There was no way to get the coins and that alone should have sparked my intuition.

On this particular day, I noticed some water erosion under the porch. A small opening had appeared and I could squeeze through and get into that closed-in space. It was going to be dirty and tight, but if I was an explorer, I was also a treasure hunter. I sensed booty here.

I might have torn my shirt crawling under the bottom board. I didn’t care. It’s the price I was willing to pay. And I didn’t care I could hardly breath in the dust-filled air, which looked golden hazy in the filtered light that found its way through the cracks.

I was fishing in the dirt and felt instantly drunk when I touched the first coin. I have no idea how longed I stayed, but I wanted to go home and show Garon. Other than Garon, for a long time, I kept it secret.

I probably fished it dry. Some of the coins were old, in good condition, and looked pure magic. I’m sure we still have them. But the story doesn’t end. I went back to the porch in early adolescence with one of my wilder friends. I told him about it.

He wanted to see the site, but I saw something else. I don’t know why I’d never seen it. Under the porch, at that same far end, was a hole and a way to get into the basement of the Dining Hall. My friend was slightly delinquent and keen on getting in. I followed him.

I told myself, “Toto, this isn’t Colorado. It’s not even Oz.”