The Velcro balls, or, “Don’t take anything personally.”

In the past few days I’ve had two different people yelling at me, quite vociferously, with a lot of passionate accusations. One of them was my son’s new Landlady, who was wanting me ( and my knowledge ) out of her house so she could deal with young and uninformed college students instead of someone more mature. Surprisingly, and I think this is the first time this has happened, ( thankfully I don’t get yelled at very often ) I had very little emotional reaction and I felt very little defensiveness. The experience reminded me of a story I once heard about Velcro Balls.

This kind of situation can be likened to having Velcro balls thrown at you. If you are wearing Velcro, the balls will stick to you, but if you have grown up a bit and shed your Velcro skin ( in the form of self doubt ) then the balls don’t stick at all. It’s as if someone was accusing you of being a kangaroo and acting like a kangaroo. Any sane person in that situation would have very little response because they know, without a doubt, that they are not kangaroos, so the accusations thrown at them would be meaningless.

This more mature response that is available to us also resembles  the instruction to “Not take anything personally,” recently stated in the book, “The Four Agreements.” Pema Chodren states something very similar with her phrase, “Don’t bite the hook.” As we can see in this close up photo of Velcro, the soft fuzzy part is definitely “Biting the Hooks” of the prickly part.

Last Saturday the Blogger gave a talk at the Zen Center of Portland called Practicing with Money.

Practicing with Money

Lately I was thinking about a certain lack of motivation to give a talk, and was realizing that Larry’s talks seem to satisfy the needs of our center, so I haven’t felt like there was a reason for me to get up here and flap my lips. However – a few years ago I suggested that Larry give a talk about money ( he seems to have figured it out pretty well ), and he hasn’t gotten around to it yet, so I thought perhaps I would try that subject on for size.

Perhaps a bit of background will be helpful because maybe you have had similar experiences or you are going through these same issues now.

My adult life began with real resentment and then depression about money and the need to make a living. Through college it wasn’t much of an issue. Although I always had a job, my parents were always backing me up, and I had no real pressure to support myself.  When those not so halcyon days were ended and my friends and I launched into the “REAL WORLD” I watched most of them take any job they could get, turning their backs completely on their dreams and true natures. Instead of that I tried my best to stick with putting my deeper desires first and money second. Consequently I was very poor for years, but I tried to follow my heart and eventually I found Zen practice — and the refining process of practice slowly brought me to a place of greater comfort with money and the ways of “MAKING” it.

BTW during my younger days my guru was Bob Dylan  who once said – “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” 

Also, via the process of finding teachers much more wise than Bob Dylan, I found that I could actually work hard without resenting it, and slowly ended up a small time Real Estate Investor and Landlord.

Like all of us I have a long history of dealing with money. Some of my earliest memories relate to it, like my Uncle giving me a quarter every time he came over to visit. But perhaps my earliest money memory is from when I was about 5 or 6 years old and I lost 2 dollars. This was a long long time ago and an incredible amount back then. I was inconsolable. Even then I knew that I wanted to have money and not lose it.

Do you too have a memory of losing money at some time in your life ?

As you remember it is there a physical sensation that accompanies the memory ? While the money loosing event may have happened one or five or fifteen years ago, it is not happening now. However, what IS happening right now is the physical “hangover,” you might say. ( I have this too, right now ) It may be some pain/regret/thinking or some anger/pain/thinking.

Is there a constricted and tight feeling in the chest or the face ? Can we experience it for a little bit, letting it be there without trying to change it ?

Can we also notice that we are forming a picture of it ? Picturing it as chest, or as jaw, causes a separation. Picturing it as having a shape separates from it.

If we locate and name it intellectually with pictures or thought – we freeze and maintain it.

If we can just look and see – This sensation is not in our chests because chest is just a thought, let the sensation be everywhere – it’s in the air we breathe and the people around us and the walls of this room and in the person that swindled us or took advantage of us, what we think of as us – and what we think of as OUR sensations are not separate from anything.

And it’s not an IT but It has it’s roots in our parents attitudes about money and their parent’s parents attitude. It’s made up of hormones and nerves and flowing blood and oxygen and bone and these things have no volition of their own. They’re just responding to an empty thought/belief coming from who knows where. So this money/thought/belief causes a lot of suffering and that’s why it’s so good to see it clearly and let it float free. Just like all the thought/beliefs we can liberate through practice.

So – We drop the picture and thoughts we make and “come closer” to the sensations, and the sensations can be experienced, “emptily”….. and the  more subtle sensations that we picture as being “around” the hard sensations are also emptily empty.

Back to Money…..  As I mentioned earlier Bob Dylan said that, “ Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” I vehemently agreed with Bob when I was 22, but at this time, I hope that he and I have both realized that he was wrong.  My first teacher Joko Beck said that there was nothing wrong with money or even that it had any intrinsic value. What she said was important was how we affected the world by our use of it – WHAT WE DO WITH IT.

So we all know that it’s important to acquire it, retain it, and also spread it around, with as much wisdom and compassion that we can muster.

And – while there seems to be no reason to not have money and acquire wealth and enjoy our lives in that way, it’s obvious problems arise when our pursuit of it, or our distribution of it, creates suffering.

Once, Joko used the example that being a Bartender was not exactly beneficial and would be an example of a job that created suffering, and of course, any income produced by the making of war or the harming of the environment would be tantamount, to suicide.

So, how do we make money ? We try to find a way that doesn’t harm anything. It’s good to follow your heart, but depending on where you are in life you may need to clarify your heart/mind through practice first – in order to identify a true calling not based on the self-centered dream. I think when we try to make money based purely on our desire to have more money, we will be lead in the wrong direction. Some of our cultures deepest Attitudes towards money points to this – more about that later.

Honesty about what it means to us to make a living and how we think and feel about making a living is valuable as clarifying means. As mentioned earlier – the idea that I had to make money used to depress me to no end, and it sometimes still feels heavy, but I’ve come to see that it supplies us with a worthy challenge.

Because It’s hard to say for sure that a life without this challenge is better, isn’t it ?

We can all see that a life of  total leisure can be very disturbing. Look at the madness that happens with young actors or musicians who suddenly have great wealth. Sometimes they go crazy and never seem to recover, but the ones who keep working even though they don’t need the money anymore seem to do better. Isn’t that interesting ?

Even though people like Merle Streep have more money than they could possibly spend, they continue working and making movies, What does that say about human nature ?  Perhaps that we need challenges to grow and live a satisfying life.

I think people like Merle Streep have learned that just doing what pleases you most every day is a really boring way to live, and they have transformed the challenge of making a living into perhaps  more personal challenge like improving their art.

I think another issue pointed out for us by the Hollywood stars that go crazy is that unless you have a lot of maturity, it may be better to have enough money, but not too much. Like the guitar strings that should be neither too tight or too loose, it may be best to have just the right amount of money that you need to enjoy your life, not too much and not too little.

We have all heard the phrase, “Money is the root of all evil” and many of us were raised to believe that.

I had never known that this comes from the Bible, from the book of Timothy, and we have shortened it to a convenient sound bite which changes it’s meaning substantially – the actual quote via the King James version is, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

According to something called the New Living Translation it goes like this – “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” So what the Bible is actually saying is that not money, but the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.  That makes a lot more sense doesn’t it,  ? if you love money more than people or yourself, or the earth, then you will “pierce yourself with many sorrows.”

The love of money causes us to harm OURSELVES !

BTW I find it interesting to note that the classic 70s hit song “For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays comes directly from this bible quote :

“For the love of money – ( it’s the same first five words )
People will steal from their mother –
For the love of money – People will rob their own brother”

On the other hand, if we desire to be of service to ALL humans/people/plants/animals/earth/the stars and more, or life itself, in all our interactions, I think we can provide nicely for ourselves since we also are life itself.

One way I try to practice this in my livelihood as a Landlord is to try to manifest Compassion extending in all directions, because If compassion extends in ALL directions we can take care of ourselves and our loved ones and everyone and everything we encounter at the same time.

Often people are only compassionate to themselves and their families and things go haywire – They end up typical landlords screwing their tenants every chance they get in the misguided attempt to be safe.

Now – on another hand – if one grew up in the 60s, or was raised by altruistic parents, or if I consider myself a Good Buddhist – I might make the mistake of only pointing compassion in the direction of my tenants – forgetting all about my daughter, my cat and the owners and staff of Chase Bank who loaned me $250,000 !!

I’ve seen this mistake in people who started businesses but were too involved in wanting to be a different kind of business person. They were too involved in their self image and their desire to be good and to be seen as good. They wanted SO BADLY to be good people – that they built beautiful enterprises based on unsustainably cheap prices, and within a few years they were out of business. As my son at college was just reporting to us recently, when speaking about farming practices – “Sustainable farming also means being able to stay in business !”

 I believe the concept of extending Compassion in all directions, 360 degrees plus up and down – can apply to anyone’s dealings with money or business, or working life. It’s valuable to be compassionate towards your boss or your employees, but not so much that you are harming yourself !

My favorite simple illustration of the problems caused by extending compassion unilaterally is when someone unnecessarily stops their car on a busy street to let a person cross. How many times have you almost rear-ended someone like that ? Their compassionate attention is doing what ??

It’s going towards the front but not the back !

We have all seen our friends struggle with the wars that money can cause between wives and husbands, parents and children and between friends. SO – Another aspect of money I would like to discuss today is the meticulous care we can give to honest and positive monetary dealings with friends, family and even institutions.

 I can’t say how our relationships with our family persists over time. But, I do have a very strong feeling and experience that these people with whom we share DNA stay close to us on into the future beyond this life – and if we wish to enjoy life into the distant future the care of these relationships is paramount that. And -perhaps the Paramitas of Generosity, Patience, Truthfulness and Loving Kindness are most pertinent at times of familial and financial stress – we can let these qualities consume all involved -including ourselves.

With Attention we can even enjoy paying our bills on the computer or writing a check – at that moment we’re taking care of these people, or these companies and their employees, there can be no thought that they are “out to get me”.

Remembering the precepts, or if your prefer, The Christian Commandments, also help us deal with money in a more intelligent way. Have you noticed that your friends who have been divorced take a huge financial hit from it ? It seems that Two horses pulling together can plow a much bigger field than two each going their own way.  How does this connect to the precepts ?  How many marriages end because of the misuse of sexuality and our allegiance to the self-centered dream ?

This phrase reminded me of the Pledge of Allegiance and our personal version of it – maybe it goes something like this —-

“I pledge allegiance, to the Dream, of a separate and independent self, and to the delusion for which it stands, one fantasy, without truth – with suffering and misery for all.”

But we can notice our tendency to live this way and let it all just float away.

So we have the opportunity to use some simple practice principles in our relationships with money. Among other things they might be :

1 ) Attention to the physical sensations that accompany our money beliefs and thinking. Knowing – even if it just something we tell ourselves – that these are empty.

2 ) Finding our way to  Right Livelihood and Motivation, if we haven’t already, through the shining light of our attention.

3 ) Practicing generosity and patience with those we care about, as well as strangers and businesses, when it comes to money.

And Finally –

4 ) Remembering that compassion wants to flow everywhere – not just to ourselves and not just to others – but to all of us and to all of them !!!

Even thought there is only us !!

Thank You


Raising the Rent is a Tightrope Walk

For any landlord, raising the rent is a difficult thing to do. Even if you are a heartless person, you have to walk a fine line and decide on an increase that will satisfy your needs, yet be acceptable to your tenant. If you don’t raise the rent enough, your business will suffer because there are, in many cases, consistently rising costs involved in doing what you do, like property taxes. On the other hand, if you raise the rent too much, your tenant is likely to leave, and if you are unable to rent the place soon, any benefit of a rent increase can evaporate very quickly.

In the following example, my tenants currently pay about $1350/month for a beautiful 2 bedroom place in a great neighborhood. I am sure this is under priced at this time, but I don’t believe raising it to it’s current value would be fair to them. I am therefore initiating a $95/month increase which I believe is already quite a blow to most people. I am only comfortable doing it because, as you will see, I gave them a price break over two years ago due to the deteriorating economic climate. Now, what if they decide to leave and I find out my perceptions are incorrect, and it takes me a month to find a new tenant. A one month vacancy would be an income loss of $1445 ( the new rent amount that I am proposing). It would take me over 15 months to recoup that loss via a $95/month gain in income, and that would be an utterly ridiculous result of a rent increase. It would be much much preferable to leave the rent stable and not have to find new tenants. So, we walk the fine line, and sometimes even express our sincere apologies to our tenants, because we don’t want them to move, and we know what it’s like ourselves when our costs go up, it’s difficult !

For your information, here’s an example of a rent increase notice I just sent out to some wonderful tenants that I would hate to loose. I start by reminding them of the price break they’ve had for quite a while.

Hi _____ & _____ ,

It’s been 2 years and 4 months since I first discounted your rent by $145/month, and one year since we discussed and raised it to $1350. This is still a full $95 less than ____ and ____ pay. I really love you guys, and hope that you can stay, but I need to bring your rent back up, at this time, to your original price of $1445. Hopefully your business is doing better and this won’t be a big problem for you.

I do imagine that if you two were to move I would probably be able to rent your place for close to $1600 a month. Rent prices in Portland have actually gone up a lot in the last two years.

I realize this is a pretty big increase, so it won’t take affect until August 1st in order for the two of you to have some time to think about it.

With apologies,


Zen Practice, Stress, and it’s better to deal with Human Beings

Ah, I feel so much better, the tempest in a teapot is over.

Fortunately I have had an ongoing cordial relationship with a woman at my bank for about 10 years. She has risen through the ranks a bit, but still remembers my name and greets me with it. When the issue arose with the underpayment of the mortgage, I went to see her, but she was busy. I then talked with another person who “didn’t know me from Adam,” and although she was generally helpful, not much was accomplished.

Today, I finally reached LeAnn via phone and she looked into the issue. She found that my lapse hadn’t been reported to a credit bureau yet, and suggested that I put a hold on the check I sent 3 days ago. She suggested I come to the branch and write another check that would be credited today. This would further insure that Chase bank did not report my “missed payment.” A report which would be difficult and possibly impossible to undue. Leah even waived the charge for stopping payment on the mailed check.

Such a good reminder to cultivate relationships whenever possible at your bank, or your lender, or your insurance company or any organization at which you do business. Find someone there, if possible, who feels simpatico. As Trungpa said, people have “basic goodness” (or we might say that people ARE basic goodness) and when dealing with someone they have some positive personal feeling for, it can appear and do us all a lot of good.

Big Thanks to LeAnn ( not her real name ) at Chase bank !


Zen Practice, Stress, and Dealing with Mindless Entities

I’ve been feeling particularly good for the last 10 days having just finished a 5 day retreat at the Zen Center of Portland.  However, my serene state was ruffled substantially yesterday by two situations in which I was confronted by mindless entities which considered me threatening. I, unfortunately, felt threatened in response. While a “perfect Buddha” might have a compassionate reaction to “mindless entities,”  my response has been much more self centered than that. Since Zen practice is all about Awareness, I can only experience the bodily tension, and notice the thoughts arising in response to the current situation, as best I can. Although thoughts and physical sensations are both “empty” they don’t feel that way right now, at 2 am on a Wednesday in May. I feel a sensation of tightness in my torso which I am not liking, and angry and hurt thoughts are racing. One of my least favorite situations are those in which I feel “wrongly accused.” Eventually “experiencing” these things will lead me to remember that there is no “me” and a moment of liberation will occur, but “I” am not there yet. I will definitely talk to my teacher, Larry Christensen soon, about this.

The first teacher I encountered yesterday was the bank that holds one of my mortgages. Last month, apparently while writing my mortgage payment, I had a “senior moment” and wrote them a check for $60 less than the amount I owed. I have no explanation for this. In response, the mindless “system” perceived me as a threat to the corporation, and counted my payment as a non-payment. Apparently, if you pay even 1 cent less than your mortgage payment, the mindless, intelligence-less computer system at these places decides that you have not made a payment at all. Consequently, even though I have not missed a mortgage payment since 1987, with a variety of companies, I was left dealing with 2 aggressive bank employees out to correct a miscreant (in this case me) who was avoiding paying them their due. In addition, my crime was reported after 30 days to a credit agency which would then apparently downgrade my credit score, and make my future dealings with banks more difficult and costly. Suddenly, because of what was essentially a “typo” I have been branded as someone who has missed a mortgage payment. Unfortunately, I took this quite personally.

The second teacher I encountered yesterday was a snarling Doberman Pinscher who was apparently very threatened by the fact that I happened to be walking past her yard. My usual response to a dog like this is fantasies of shooting them with a .22 pistol. I have never owned a .22 pistol, but when I was young I did go hunting with my Father and Brother, and when confronted by a snarling beast I often mentally reach for a gun which exists only in my mind. This very compassion-less response is somewhat embarrassing to a long time practitioner, but, I think we all need to be honest about who we are, acknowledging what arises, particularly if it is something we would rather not admit. Joko Beck often reminded us to be honest with ourselves.

Yesterday, I noticed that the dog seemed even more upset if I looked it in the eye, so I paused for a moment to experience the fear and anger from my side of a more than adequate chain-link fence. There was a moment of compassion for the dog and, it’s state, as we faced each other.  The snarling never lessened, and I found myself thinking, “Why ? Why ? Why ?” I got no answer, but just thinking of it now, 12 hours later, there is a feeling of nausea. The answer, if there is one, lies inside that feeling, I know.

In conclusion I can only say that dealing with mindless entities is confusing and frustrating, and we may as well acknowledge that. We can only experience the self centered response we have to these beasts as best we can with full faith that these teachers shine a light on our sometimes hidden self-clinging in a particularly acute way. A soft caring attitude towards our small selves can only help us see our way into the light. When we forgive ourselves for being just who we are, right now, seeing our own intrinsic innocence, a door can open into more liberation and compassion.




Bob Dylan speaks to his Landlord in 1967

Dear landlord
Please don’t put a price on my soul
My burden is heavy
My dreams are beyond control
When that steamboat whistle blows
I’m gonna give you all I got to give
And I do hope you receive it well
Dependin’ on the way you feel that you live

Dear landlord
Please heed these words that I speak
I know you’ve suffered much
But in this you are not so unique
All of us, at times, we might work too hard
To have it too fast and too much
And anyone can fill his life up
With things he can see but he just cannot touch

Dear landlord
Please don’t dismiss my case
I’m not about to argue
I’m not about to move to no other place
Now, each of us has his own special gift
And you know this was meant to be true
And if you don’t underestimate me
I won’t underestimate you

“Why do you care ? You don’t live here.”

Last week I was having a gas line installed in order to convert an old oil furnace to a new gas furnace. Since I like to be onsite whenever there are contractors at any of my places, I showed up about half way through the installation process for the gas line and meter. I mentioned to the guys that I was glad of the meter placement because I didn’t want the meter in front of a beautiful brick chimney on the side of the house.  The pipeline installer ( he didn’t work for the Gas company) responded, “Why do you care ? You don’t live here.” About half an hour later, he mentioned that he used to own some rentals, but sold them, because he “got sick of the hassle.”

If you have a feeling that you don’t care about your places because you don’t live there, you shouldn’t be a landlord. Your tenant will know that you don’t care, and then they won’t care.        ( Most tenants, there are some exceptions, are certainly not going to care about your place more than you do) They won’t be responsible in the way they treat it, they will be problems that you will then have to remedy, and you too will “get sick of the hassles.”

“It is your mind which creates this world” – The Buddha

This guy did a great job of self creating the world of the miserable landlord, with miserable tenants.



“Not knowing is most intimate,” also, it can feel quite uncomfortable.

Dizang asked Fayan, “Where are you going?”
Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.”
Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?”
Fayan said, “I don’t know.”                                                                                                           Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”                                                                                    ( with thanks to Norman Fischer )

Two and a half weeks ago I was told I needed a new furnace, the sooner the better. Our present furnace ( at our home ) evidently has a cracked heat exchanger and is leaking CO into our house at a rate that is not exactly dangerous, especially if we don’t use it at night, but, since the cracking could expand, it could become dangerous at any time. I fully expected to have it replaced at least a week ago, but, I don’t know. I don’t know what furnace to choose or what furnace contractor to trust, and furnaces are expensive ! somewhere between $3500 and $4500 for our 1800 square foot home.

I had a furnace contractor that I trusted, until I had his company upgrade one of our duct systems. At that point in time their incompetence became obvious. Consequently, I am getting conflicting advice from two contractors I don’t know. When we practice meditation while dealing with an issue like this we notice how much thinking surrounds it, and usually there is fear of making the wrong decision. When we stop thinking we experience the bodily tension that comes with these thoughts – and it can feel quite threatening and uncomfortable. However, if we can remember what old Dizang said back about the year 880 CE, we might try out letting the discomfort just be there without trying to fiddle with it. I have found this approach to decision making quite valuable. We often have an insight into our situation that would not come through speculation and worrying.

This morning there was an experience that illustrates this. During sitting, while just experiencing the tension in the body, two things popped up. 1) my good friend Patricia from the Zen Center of Portland had her furnace replaced a couple years ago, and 2) we do a lot of our heating with the gas fireplace in our living room.  Hearing from Patricia on the subject may help a lot, and the more expensive furnace will not benefit us as much if it’s turned off half the time !



“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”- unless your furnace breaks down.

Currently my world has TWO dead furnaces that need replacing. I am wading through a lot of information, and internet reviews, and bids from installers. I have found the most important element in a project of this nature is to have someone that you trust giving you advice. Unfortunately I’ve been a landlord so long that some of my favorite service people have retired and even died. My most trusted furnace installer and repairman was a guy who was completely honest and helpful, he retired about 8 years ago. Since then I have dealt with 2 furnace companies that I unfortunately discovered were inept, and now I am out in the furnace buying wilderness alone. Hopefully one of the competing heating contractors will turn out to be someone I can have a long term relationship with, cause I really don’t know much about furnaces.

With a lot of money at stake, and a feeling of being inadequately informed, I am experiencing a lot of tension and discomfort in the body. Zen practice is about experiencing these physical sensations without trying to fix them. As Joko often said, “difficult, but not impossible.”


Stay In Business: extend Compassion in ALL directions – Part II

“Idiot compassion is a great expression, which was actually coined by Trungpa Rinpoche. It refers to something we all do a lot of, and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. Basically, you’re not giving them what they need. You’re trying to get away from your feeling of “I can’t bear to see them suffering.” In other words, you’re doing it for yourself. You’re not really doing it for them.” – Pema Chodren

I may not be using the perfect definition for idiot compassion as Trungpa saw it, but my frequent experience of idiot compassion involves compassion flowing in only one direction. I imagine we have all had an experience, while driving, where a person/car in front of you stops in a very unexpected way, in order to let someone cross the street. They are being very caring for the person who wants to cross, which is very nice, but they are completely ignorant of the fact that they just came very close to being rear-ended, which would certainly obliterate any benefit they may have facilitated. If fact, they might be actually putting the pedestrian in danger. Recently, in Portland, someone was struck and killed when a person on a four lane street stopped for them. A car in another lane could not see why the driver had stopped, and they struck and killed the person crossing.

Compassion in this case is extending “in front” of them only, and not behind, or to the sides, therefore a good illustration of how we can try to extend Compassion in ALL directions. It’s not always easy to do.



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