Mesa Hot

For the first week of our return to Arizona, we were baked, and I don’t mean in some metaphoric “Ghosts of Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia giddily traipsing through the welcoming haze of Colorado” sort of way.
For eight of the first nine days of our stay in Mesa (a southeast suburb of Phoenix), the temperatures hit at or over a hundred. The heat was a relentlessly intense as a Led Zeppelin riff (I’m thinking “Kashmir”, or maybe “Black Dog”). The two air conditioning units on our RV were valiantly chugging along. We started to experiment with insulating the windows, putting up blankets and/or reflecting panels, and that did help to reduce the effects a bit (and give our air conditioners a little slack to work with), but it has been the land of the lizards.
Then, about two days ago, there was the deluge: about 36 hours of thunderstorms that brought down almost three inches of rain in all. It did bring down the temperatures a bit, and left large puddles hither and yon, in a town that doesn’t seem all that prepared for that sort of monsoon rainage. Then again, what town is, really?
A year ago, when we first embarked on our gypsy lifestyle, we missed the storms that wracked Colorado and all but wiped out a couple of towns in the foothills. We got a taste of what that might have been like (although I seem to remember that stormage persisted for the better part of a week, or more). The thunder was most impressive: huge claps and growls of booming madness that had Rufus curling up with the Mama for most of the time.
Still, I would not wish to suggest that all has been nothing but a hell of heat and thunderstorms. The gypsies are settled for the next few months (until the end of the year) here in Mesa, playing a variety of gigs in and around Phoenix. We took advantage of a Fall price special offered by the Mesa Regal RV resort. It’s actually a blend of RV spaces and pre-fab homes; some 2500 all told (or so I have been told). It is still a bit before the regular season; most of the snowbirds have not yet arrived. I feel a bit like Charlton Heston, in “The Omega Man”; wandering about a mostly empty community, enjoying the various amenities, and waiting for the zombies to invade.
The amenities are good. There’s a lovely lap pool (some 25 meters, Pony figures). I have been swimming eight of the last ten days, since arriving. My body aches, but it is the good ache of regular workouts. I usually go fairly early in the morning (around 8 or so, after taking Rufus for our morning promenade), and swim for the better part of an hour. Another couple weeks or so of this, and I may even have a noticeable tan (and no longer be in danger of flashing the eyes of passing airplane pilots with my pasty white flesh, as my sister would describe it).
I am scoping out venues, working on repertoire, writing new stuff, organizing tour plans for the next 9-12 months, and generally keeping plenty busy with a healthy mix of creative challenges and “takin’ care of business”. There are ashes (heat nothwithstanding), but, like the Phoenix, I look to be rising.

Care, Concern, and the Nature of Worry

Pony and I traveled into Santa Fe to meet a friend of ours last night. The plan was to meet our friend, Teri, at the Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe, at 5pm. We took a few minutes to fill our severely empty gas tank, but arrived at the Trader Joe’s parking lot at just a few minutes past 5.
And we waited.
While we waited, we were accosted by a couple of panhandlers. The second one, gave his tale homeless woe, and I offered to buy him a sandwich at the Subway, just across the parking lot from Trader Joe’s. He told me his name was Bodie. We walked into the Subway, and I let him order a footlong, along with a bottle of Coke. The whole bill came to about $10. I would have done better just to slip him a little change. Still…
We waited.
Bodie swung by on his bicycle to tell us that he was still trying to muster up some change to charge his cellphone (a homeless guy with a cellphone…?… well, okay). Still, at this point, having felt that I had donated enough to Bodie’s survival, we shrugged our shoulders as he went down to the other end of the parking lot on his bicycle.
We waited.
It was now nearly 6pm; almost an hour past the agreed upon meeting time. Pony tried calling Teri’s phone, but there was no response, and an announcement that the voicemail box was full. She sent a handful texts; another one every ten minutes or so. Still no response.
Last week, there was a quote from the Dalia Lama posted on Facebook about worry. “If there is a solution, then you work towards that solution. If there is no solution, then worry will not change anything.” I am be paraphrasing a little, but that was the gist of it. I shared that quote, lending my own agreement to the spirit of it. But now as I was confronted with a form of worry that may not have been adequately covered by the Dalai Lama’s words. It is the worry of not knowing. In not knowing, you, you are not sure whether there is a solution or not. You do not know if there is something you can do, because you do not know what may have happened.
By 6:30, we left a final text, giving the address of the restaurant we planned to go to for dinner, still having heard nothing.
As we started up the car and prepared to head for the restaurant, Bodie rode by on his bicycle.
“I’m not crying, but I hid the sandwich and the soda behind a trash can, and somebody stole it,” he told us.


The Noisy Mind and the Quiet Room

On Saturday, Pony and I went to explore downtown Santa Fe. As we arrived and found parking for our car, the bells of the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral began to ring. There were a handful of bells that, once they got going, created quite a din that filled the downtown plaza with their sound.
At some point, I was reminded of those bells as I sat in the meditation hall of the Upaya Zen Center, in Santa Fe. Upaya is located in a quiet, unassuming little neighborhood in the eastern part of Santa Fe. I read about it in one of my zen Buddhist books, and decided to pay it a visit (up to now, I had never visited any Buddhist temple of any sort, zen or otherwise, despite the fact that I have been meditating for almost 40 years and have identified myself as a Buddhist for over a decade).
It is a lovely community. Pony and I did not get any formal tour as such, but we wandered about a bit until we found the building that seems to serve as kitchen, dining hall, and office. There I met a gentleman named Michael who had all the appearances of being a monk (shaved head, black blouse and trousers, sandals). He led us to the meditation hall. Pony begged off going in for the meditation session, as she had a headache coming on. Michael suggested she might walk the gardens (including a labyrinth), while I removed my shoes and entered the meditation hall, and took a seat at a spot indicated for me.
The hall is reasonably spacious; about the size of a small chapel, perhaps, with seating arranged around the perimeter. There are cushions on the floor, as well as a few stools and chairs for those who wished to sit in the manner Westerners are more accustomed to.
It was an hour of meditation, starting with 25 minutes of seated meditation, then about ten minutes of walking meditation, followed by another 25 minutes of sitting (there is sort of a joke among zen Buddhists, found on t-shirts and bumper stickers, that says, “Don’t just do something…Sit there!”).
I sat down to meditate, and the monkey mind kicked into full gear. Thoughts careened and raced and bumped and clashed within the walls of my mind. As I said, I was reminded of the clangor of the cathedral bells, and I really was afraid that my thoughts would be loud enough to disturb the others seated around me. It didn’t help that I had forgot to leave my cellphone in the car. It chimed twice (to inform me friends of mine had taken their turns in Words With Friends matches) before I found the volume control and turned it down to zero.
Still, there was some stillness. And there was a moment where I felt like the front of my head was one big hole of endless “no-thing-ness”. There is a zen koan that asks, “What is your face before you are born?” And I found my self wondering, “Is this THAT?”
I came out of the meditation session feeling incredibly calm and energized, and with a quiet, deep abiding sense of joy, or perhaps bliss. All of this, despite the frantic mischief of the monkey mind. I have had other moments of meditation where I have experienced profound stillness of the mind. I am sure I can and will do so again. In the meantime, I look forward to visiting Upaya at least one more time before we head on to Phoenix.

The Key

We have a banner hanging in the bedroom of our RV. It Is supposed to be a quote from Buddha. It says:
“The key to happiness is not success.
The key to success is happiness.
Do what you love, and you will be successful.”
[this would fit into the Eightfold Path under Right Action and Right Livelihood, I would say]
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were three straight days of doing what I love, here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On Wednesday night, I met a gentleman who is a songwriter for cabaret shows (he has actually received checks from ASCAP, which, I admit, is something I am still hoping for at some point).
On Thursday, I was playing the Casa Real Healthcare Center, where I met the staff psychologist. She introduced herself, and told me of growing up in Brooklyn, struggling with Spina Bifida. She told me of a couple of volunteers who would regularly visit the hospital (where she underwent several surgeries for her condition), and they would read to her and the other children. She told me that one of those volunteers was Malcolm X. She then told me how precious and healing it was for me to come and play for the residents of the healthcare center, and thanked me for my good work (she also agreed to send me an email with some suggested Spanish songs that I might learn and add to my growing repertoire).
On Friday, I was at a small, private nursing home, where I had an audience of maybe ten. I played without a sound system (very much in the spirit of a House Concert, as it were). At the end of the show, the owner asked me to remind her what my fee was. To be honest, given the small audience and all, I was sort of bracing for the need to negotiate a lesser fee than I usually charge, especially when the owner’s eyes went wide in apparent surprise. But to my surprise, she said, “Can I pay you more?” She paid me almost double my usual fee, and told me to be sure to call the next time I look to be in town.
Yesterday, I was reading one of my handful of books on Buddhism, when I came across an article that described a zen center here in Santa Fe. I looked them up on the internet, and found a schedule of meditation sessions open to the public. I intend to visit this center and see what I may learn.
The last few days have been joyful. They have been filled with good work (Right Effort), and I have been filled with a feeling of being at peace with my world. We still have our challenges, here and there. The water heater is acting up in the RV, and we have not yet figured out what’s wrong (we suspect a bad fuse, which will mean a trip to Camping World on Monday to find a replacement). There is work to be done, and problems to be addressed, and yet, for the most part, I feel a very welcome sense of calm about it all. Lately, Pony has taken up the practice of expressing gratitude in posts on Facebook. I guess this is my version of the same, here.