The Two Faces of Nostalgia

I posted a blog recently entitled “Life is a Series of Close Calls,” where I discussed the beneficial role of reminiscing as we age.  Shortly after that, I happened to read about new research concerning the positive aspects of nostalgia in relation to pain perception.  Scientists subjected participants to a modest pain stimulus—heat stimulation—and then asked them to rate their perceived pain while looking either at “old cartoons, childhood games or retro candy” or at more modern images.  The participants that looked at “nostalgic” photos reported significantly less pain, and their response was validated using MRI brain scans.  The purpose of the study was … Read More

Life is a Series of Close Calls

I just celebrated my 75th birthday.  Does this mean I’m finally old? I don’t feel old.  I’m in good health, I’m active, I’m still intent on pursuing my established career as an author.  My memory for words and numbers seems as nimble as ever.  For the last ten years the topic of aging has been my specialty as a writer, so with every year that passes I am more of a living embodiment of what I write about.  Many of the readers of my aging books are now younger than I am; they look to my books to help them understand what is in … Read More

War is Back. It Never Left

War fills the headlines.  Stories about what is happening in Ukraine are everywhere.  Each day I open the New York Times on my phone and see the headline in their largest type—the one reserved for the most dire news.  I scroll down and there are heartbreaking photos of massive destruction, dead bodies, smoke rising from unextinguishable fires.  Journalists add to their stories the inevitable comparison: “This is the worst world threat since the Cuban missile crisis.” What they mean is that the threat of nuclear war—after what has seemed like a thirty year hiatus—is once again visible.  Could it actually happen? This article discusses the Read More

Winding Your Clock Without Setting It

Here is a story about my first Buddhist teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, as recounted by one of his early students: “As I was telling Suzuki Roshi what a disaster my life had become, he began to chuckle. I asked him what I should do.  ‘Sit meditation,’ he replied, ‘Life without meditation is like winding your clock without setting it.  It runs perfectly well, but it doesn’t tell time.’ “

This story is from Zen Is Right Herea collection of Suzuki Roshi stories by my good friend and dharma brother David Chadwick.  This story took place perhaps fifty years ago, in the early … Read More

A Dog Was Rescued.

I recently read a heartwarming story on NPR of a dog named Mia, who ran away after a car accident and was lost for a month before finally being found by neighbors who had set up a remote camera to take pictures of the place the accident had happened.  The camera showed that the dog was returning twice a day to the spot, looking for her owners, but was gone by the time the neighbors arrived to pick her up.

Eventually Mia was found and reunited with her family.  The NPR story showed a sweet picture of Mia licking her happy owner’s … Read More

Reflections on our Dark Century

In a recent New York Times article, entitled “Our Dark Century,” Thomas Friedman proposes that the darkness that seems to be descending over the world is not some aberration, but actually a return to the “normal” state of affairs that existed in earlier centuries.  “The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries,” he writes, “were normal. Big countries like China, Russia and Turkey are ruled by fierce leaders with massive power. That’s normal. Small aristocracies in many nations hog gigantic shares of their nations’ wealth. That’s normal.”

I found this thesis quite striking, even disturbing, although on reflection and from a … Read More

Genuineness Thrives in the Dark

I recently came across this quote from twentieth century author Aldous Huxley in The Week magazine: “I’m afraid of losing my obscurity. Genuineness only thrives in the dark, like celery.” I don’t know when in his life Huxley said this; it was probably early in his writing career, since later on he did become quite famous for Brave New World and other writings.   Huxley died in 1963, before computers, before the internet, before all the vast machinery of celebrity that is so much a feature of our current maddening century.  The quote is a fascinating insight into Huxley’s own inner process and … Read More

Canada Truckers, Gorillas, and Graffiti

As I write this, truckers in Canada are still blocking streets in Ottawa; they were blocking the critical Ambassador bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario but that has now been cleared.  By the time this is published the dispute may have been resolved, but I am not as interested in the ostensible reason for the protest—the requirement in Canada that all truckers entering the country be vaccinated against Covid—as in the method of protest, using huge trucks to block the highways. That is rather new, and it is already being imitated in other countries. What struck me about this situation is … Read More

The Zen Master Just Said, “Zucchini”

I began studying Zen back in the 60s, in Berkeley, California.  Back then there were only a few of us, meeting in someone’s living room.  Shunryu Suzuki–who later became famous as the founder of Tassajara monastery and the author of the best-selling Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind—sometimes came from San Francisco and joined us for meditation, and then stayed for breakfast.  In those days he he made it a point to visit all the small Zen sitting groups in the area.

One morning he came with his wife, whom we called Okusan—a Japanese word meaning “wife”—and we all sat around a small … Read More

Our World is Fragile as Glass

It’s true; our world is fragile as glass in so many ways.  The climate is fragile and we are trampling on its infinite complexity with ignorance and abandon.  Our social order, with its complex web of custom and civil behavior, is fraying; as face to face interaction wanes during Covid, web-fueled impatience and rage is becoming the norm.  And our personal life, formerly organized around stable relationships and daily routines, is upended.  Even our very sense of what is real and true is subject to this fragility. In terms of personal life, I read that the average weight gain during the two years of … Read More