Monday, September 28, 2009

A few things that have happened

1. Decibel Festival. I went to a show that made me question whether I actually do like electronic music. Then I saw a couple DJs who just blew me away: Nosaj Thing and Daedelus. (and a few I kind of liked: Noah Pred, Mary Anne Hobbs, Gaslamp Killer) Check them out if your musical tastes align with mine.

2. David Byrne and a panel of (older) Seattle bicycle wonks. Byrne talked for like 15 minutes about "here are some cool photos of bicycle things and cities that I've seen" and the Seattlers gave vague sermons to the choir about how we need to have fewer highways and more bike lanes, etc. So I'm maybe biased because I consider "you dance like David Byrne" to be one of the highest compliments I've ever received, but I'd rather have heard him talk about what happened to him on the way to the talk than hear these yuk-yuks. (and I agree with them even! shoot...)
To unify this thought with my current life theme: they weren't compassionate. It was all "bike people vs. car people" and "Hummer (boooooo)" and "bike parking (yayyy)". Look, you drive in cars sometimes too. (to say nothing of planes.) Let he who can transport a bookshelf on his bicycle cast the first stone!

3. I made (well, am making) a small web app. Daniel sent me this article. That is a cool thought! "It doesn't scale" doesn't necessarily have to be the end-all be-all of software quality metrics anymore! Huh. I'd really like to take this idea and run somewhere with it. (although first I should finish my small web app.) I think I will ruminate on this later. I will say that using App Engine + GWT hits that sweet spot (for me) of a project that's like 80% stuff I know and 20% stuff I don't, where I'm still learning something but it's really fun to work on.

4. I am also making small incremental improvements to my life. As of about a week ago, I am assiduously writing down my dreams. As of today, I am drinking tea at work instead of coffee. And I am honestly debating giving up desserts. So here's a thing: my dad has started eating very healthily recently, just cold-turkey on junk food and sugar and stuff, and I figure, if he can do it, why not me? Plus, it'd be a little show of solidarity, a bit of a mindfulness thing (like kosher laws), and it can't hurt.
It's a good feeling. I am trying not to overextend myself (because it sucks to try too many things at once and then they all come crashing down) but it's really nice to be making constant small amounts of progress. See also: daily chanting.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do you like electronic music?

Oh, also, do you live in Seattle? If both are "yes", let me know, as the Decibel Festival is happening this weekend, and we should go to a show or two.
Sincerely, Dan, who has very few electronic-musically-inclined friends.

Friday, September 18, 2009

So, this Nichiren Buddhism

... is about happiness. Speaking of which, before I forget, an article about how people judge other people's lives all the time, oh geez I do that too, or at least I used to, but it's really unproductive and will make you miserable.

Uh, back on track. Nichiren Buddhism. I found out about it at Burning Man. Check that; I found out about it years ago, from a guy named Matt in a hostel called the Rambutan in Granada. Then I forgot about it because it wasn't nearby. Previously, I had dallied briefly with Zen but did not understand it at all (and neither did anyone else). After I returned from Europe, I didn't follow anything, then I went to a Theravada monastery for a weekend and then meditated for a few months but thought it wasn't helping, took a break for a few months, and now here I am. Buddhism, take three.

Nichiren Buddhism: outwardly, their big deal is chanting. Twice a day, they chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo repeatedly. Rough translation: Nam is Sanskrit for "I dedicate myself to", Myoho Renge Kyo is Japanese for "the Lotus Sutra", or "the law of cause and effect." The Lotus Sutra was the Buddha's biggest best teaching, where he laid down the real truth and said "everything up to now has really just been preparation so you were ready to hear this." So twice a day, you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and read part of the Lotus Sutra and offer prayers.

But saying "Nichiren Buddhism is about chanting" is like saying "Catholicism is about Mass." It kind of is, really. But it's not; the mass/chanting is just the way to practice the religion. What do they believe? Well, for starters, enlightenment is for everyone, everyone has a Buddha-nature, and you don't even have to go become a monk to find it. It's a relatively recent Buddhism (700 years old or so) founded (by a guy named Nichiren) in response to strict, elite, arduous Zen.

Chanting is meditation. Don't get hung up on the difference between sitting + chanting, and just sitting; it's a way to focus your mind, I guess. But they do emphasize different things; the Theravadans go for "mindfulness", where you see your thoughts, watch them, and let them go, while the Nichirenites chant to bring out your inner Buddha self. It's the same, really: your Buddha nature is mindful; if you are mindful, you'll realize the Buddha is within you.

Another big thought: remember how I mentioned the law of cause and effect? They're big on that. Any cause you make will come back around. Not in a good or bad way, but it just will. Everything that happens is a result of a lot of choices a lot of people made (and nature and stuff)... which is trivially true. When you make a cause, the effect is set in motion. I have to talk to them more to figure out what exactly they mean by that.

What I like about it: it's easy. It's progressive (at the time, it was the first to extend enlightenment to women, for example). It's populist. No focus on reincarnation. More focus on compassion.

What I don't like about it: they tend to talk about their founders and their association (the Soka Gakkai International, or "value creating society") a lot, which seems too worldly to me

Another thing I like about it though: you can kind of pick and choose what you do and don't believe.

A thing I just had to realize about Buddhism in general (well, religion in general): a ritual is probably useful. No matter what you do, or how little you do it. I found 20-minute meditation hard, so now I just do a couple minutes in the morning and at night. Okay, maybe I won't transcend my worldly body at this rate, but a little is better than nothing, and I'll get into a habit.

More compassion! More mindfulness! I am all about these things these days.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I had a great ride home today

It kind of smells like fall, and for fall I give an A+ to Passion Pit, on first listen. Also A+ to Belle and Sebastian in general for "Get me away from here, I'm dying". I've commented that my Pandora stations tend towards all Belle and Sebastian and Sufjan, all the time. The former, really, is A-OK with me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This is a good essay:

"How to do what you love" by Paul Graham.

That's about all I have to say right now, although I do have a lot to say about Nichiren Buddhism maybe tomorrow, but now I am tired.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What is Burning Man, though?

So I went to Burning Man. It was very good. If you're reading this, you probably know what Burning Man is. If not, I'll try to explain. It's a big festival, first of all, without any one particular aim, and it's kind of full of peace and love and etc. This leads a lot of people to think "Woodstock" or something, and therefore to think "sex, drugs, and rock and roll". Let's run with that and try to refine it.

Well, first of all, the music of choice is mostly techno. At any time of day or night, you won't have to strain to hear thumping basses. Rock is not so preferred; the "concert" in which four people play and a hundred people watch is just not as fun to the "dance" in which everyone's participating. Or maybe people just really like computers in their music. Whatever: sex, drugs, and techno.

Sex? Well, there's probably a lot of that going on. There's not a lot of clothing sometimes, you see people making out, there are talks and parties about all sorts of sexual things. All your major sexual orientations are prominently on display, as well as most of your garden-variety fetishes. In a safe, open, relatively-less-taboo atmosphere, which is great. Still, despite what you may have heard, it's only there if you seek it out; Burning Man is not a big orgy. Bear with me, dear conservative reader!

Drugs? Yes, there are those too, but again, not as much as I would have thought. There's plenty of booze, the familiar smell of pot, and I met a couple people tripping on something. Again, this is also great; whatever floats your boat. And again, it's only there if you seek it out. So we've got a reasonable amount of sex and drugs, and an unreasonable amount of techno.

But if that were all, you would have a much lesser festival! First of all, there's the art. Everywhere you go, and especially after dark, you will see incredible things! Amazing things! A 40-foot-tall art-deco rocket! A replica of the Thunderdome from Mad Max! A giant Rubik's Cube! A cubatron! A grid of jets spewing fire into the air in choreographed patterns! And then there's the namesake Burning Man. And did I mention the "art cars": decorated buses, trucks, other mutant vehicles holding 10, 20, 30 people, playing music or serving drinks, looking like a dragon or a pirate ship or a Victorian mansion? Yes sir, if you could do nothing but gawk at art it would be worth the price of admission alone.

Pyromaniac much? You may know that they burn a big statue of a man. And I mentioned one of the "grid of jets spewing fire" art installations; there are others. A neuron that spits fire, a bug that spits fire, cars that spit fire. And fire dancers: there must be hundreds of folks who spin fire poi or fire staffs or fire swords or a long-fiery-thing-on-a-string or whatever you like. This is neat.

Burning Man is a camp in the desert. This is difficult but not painful. You have to build a shade structure over your tent so you have somewhere to be during the day and so that you can sleep past dawn. Dust gets in everything. It's really hot during the day and kinda cold at night. But it's not crummy, really. It's dusty, but it's not muddy, so it's a very clean kind of dirty. It's a week without a shower, it's a week eating dried and canned food over a camp stove, but these are challenges, not ordeals. It surprised me how not-so-bad it was.

It's a spiritual opportunity. I learned about a new kind of Buddhism there (more on that later). I chatted about the meaning of it all, how to live with more compassion, whether Christianity was really so bad (oh my gourd, it is actually pretty good, get off its case), different meditative practices, and all sorts of religious, spiritual, and quasi-spiritual things.

It's an opportunity to do generally fun things too. Want to draw on a giant mural, learn to make kimchi, or paint your body all different colors? Run through an obstacle course, eat a grilled cheese sandwich at 1AM, listen to a kind of music you never have before? Dance like you never have before? Wear a different goofy costume every day of the week? Hell, wear no clothes at all, just because why not? You can do it, and nobody will laugh at you.

And there is the real magic of Burning Man. It's so supportive and welcoming. The only thing you can do wrong is not do what you want. (and even then, it's cool too.) The crowd is a little bit of a cast of misfits. It's not just a nerd crowd, it's not really a hippie crowd, but you get the sense that everyone there is a little outside the mainstream because the mainstream is a little unsatisfying. And because they're a little outside the norm, they've been pushed around a little. And they react in the best possible way: by not pushing others back, indeed, but by opening up to others to a really unusual extent. It makes people like me feel like we're really truly okay, more than anything has in a while.

So what is Burning Man? Sex, drugs, techno, art, fire, camping, spirituality, fun, a really fantastically open atmosphere, and that's still not the half of it. As usual when I travel somewhere, I'd love to talk about it anytime.

(and if you'd rather hear it from someone other than me, this guy wrote a good post about it too.)