Fred Jablonski

Fred Jablonski’s water bottle, a blue one liter Nalgene bottle, sat on his desk long after Fred Jablonski was gone. He only lasted a day. Showed up and decided that the job wasn’t for him or something, we never knew. In fact, no one ever introduced him to anyone in the the department and no one told us he was gone. But his desk was still his desk months later, the water bottle gathering dust along with the standard office supplies, pen, pencil, stapler and notebook. Fred Jablonski was The Dead Man in Yossarian’s tent. No one could be assigned to that desk the water bottle gathered dust until we moved offices seven months later. But the myth of Fred Jablonski long after the desk and dusty water bottle were left behind.

Fred Jablonski lived on because he became a kind of Spartacus for the software development department. Everyone was Fred Jablonski. See, when we changed offices we also got we one of those phone conferencing systems which asked you to record your names and then announced you when you joined the call. This annoyed everyone. So when you attended a conference call you would be met with a roll call of “Fred Jablonski”, “Freeeed Jablonski”, “Fred Jaaablonski”, “Jablonski, Fred Jablonski” every time a developer joined.  The rest of the company had no idea who Fred Jablonski was which only encouraged us for a time. Eventually the company grew and many people even in the software engineering department had no idea who Fred Jablonski was. And so, eventually Fred Jablonski faded… 


Welcome to the aged, connected society

File under story I will never actually write:

In a not so far off future, an increasingly elderly society is decimated when massive numbers of people over 65 suddenly overdose. After much investigation the culprit turns out to be a group of young political activists who seek to save their future by eliminating retired people who are costing more and more in public health expenditure while also dominating the political process through their numbers. The effect of their age and voting block is that they keep raising the taxes of younger working people to fund their ever increasing healthcare needs. How did the hackers bring about an instant change in the political landscape? By hacking into internet connected automatic pill dispensers all the retirees use…


Do or Do Not, There is No Try

This is the second of two posts based on papers I turned in for a class on Eastern Philosophy I took in 1997. This is the second paper, the final exam. For the first paper see here [], for the whole story see here [].

Somewhere between eating honey with Pooh and walking the narrow road with Basho I learned something more than eastern philosophy over the last semester. I learned how to live some of the ideals of the traditions we studied. Words spoken by the Dalai Lama now make sense beyond the words themselves. The moon is the moon and the finger the finger. So my final exam is not a retelling of the books we read in the course of the semester but a the answer to a simple question: what did I learn in Philosophy 260?

Why Worry?

“If it is fixable, then there is no need to worry. If not, there is no benefit to worrying.” These are the words of the Dalai Lama, but the sentiment is familiar to everyone: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, “Don’t worry, be happy” and a million other turns of phrase. Though I have heard them before I have never really listened to them, until I myself said them.

…About halfway through the semester a friend of mine was in the process of getting a loan for a new car. She was hysterical about everything. Every little detail she worried over, completely stressing her out. She worried so much she was making herself sick. All I could say to her was don’t worry, if you are going to get the loan there is no need to worry, if not then worrying will only make you sick, not help you get the car. Stop. Hold the press! I sounded like some dime store version of the Dalai Lama. But, the more I thought about it the more it finally made since, in a way I can’t explain, and over the next few weeks I repeated if to myself when I worried. I works. It released me from the prison of my worry and calmed me down. The worry didn’t always go away completely but the words became a sort of mantra. My own litany against worry, like the Litany Against Fear which Paul Atreides used in Dune:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

A practical example of how I applied my litany against worry is the written exam for this class. Given that the written exam forms 25% of our grade I worried about it long before the semester drew to a close. Normally I would have tied myself into mental knots worrying about my grade, zapping my concentration and rendering studying a vicious cycle. Applying the Dalai Lama’s words I strove to quit worrying about the grade, I reread the materials and reviewed our class discussions. I spent some time away from studying, spending the last hours before the test discussing other things over coffee with friends, just relaxing. When all was said and done, I got a better grade on the written exam than on the paper I spent so much time on worrying about late into the night.

The Bisy Backson

What is a Bisy Backson? In The Tao of Pooh a Backson is described as a person who goes through life always searching but never finding happiness. The Backson is so obsessed with saving time that they have none to spend and in the end has wasted all their time. This sounds familiar.

I go to school to learn so I can get a good job and make money. Why? So I can buy things to save me time so I can enjoy life. But in the meantime I waste the here and now. Trying to get ahead I take too many classes and work as many hours as I can in between. A quad-shot latte to start the morning is a necessity and it’s never shared over conversation and camaraderie. Drink it on the way to class. Finish the next assignment while eating lunch. More lectures and a six-hour shift. Sleep and repeat. Not allowing any time for myself, for life.

On the other hand I see people I go to school with who are wasting their money, or their parents money. They seem to be here to party. Their textbooks always fetch the highest trade-in at the end of the semester, mint condition, never used. Halfway through the this semester I sought middle ground. I missed, too far to the fun side and I know it. Last year I burnt out because I never did anything but work and study.

Somewhere between the Backson and the Hedonist is a better path that I will aim for. Hopefully I can find this path between the two extremes and walk it to success and happiness.

The Finger and the Moon

One koan from or studies of Zen this semester took on greater importance to me, the koan of the finger and the moon:

All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the finger will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty.

At first I dismissed this as just another formulation of the familiar “missing the forest for the moon”, and a silly one at that, how could anyone mistake a finger for the moon it points too? But that’s not quite it. Slowly over this semester I have come to understand the koan through my experience with our mid-term paper. I mistook the grade for the assignment.

Instead of trying to learn something I focused on writing a paper that would get me a good grade. I tried to impress my teacher instead of writing a paper. In doing so I fixed my gaze upon the grade and by fixating on it I lost sight of the assignment. It was only after being called out on this by two of my classmates outside of class that I was able to see the mistake I had made. Only now, too late, have I understood that the finger is a necessary tool but that it is the moon itself that is the point. Now I am applying this lesson and a paper on what I learned rather than just writing an “A” paper.

The Big Lesson…

The biggest lesson I have learned in class this semester was not something I got from a book or a poem or a play or a movie. The biggest lesson I learned came from myself. When I registered for this class I anticipated an easy ride. Because I had already taken Religions of the World and Eastern Religions I assumed I would sit back, read a few books, write a few papers and collect an easy A.


My problem was I started the semester with no intention of putting into class anything like the amount of effort that is necessary to learn. At the start of the semester it was clearly stated that we could “only take away from this class what we put into this class”. Other teachers have said it before but I always did well even when my effort was less than what it could have been. In fact I was “awarded” the “Einstein Award, for the student who knows the most an applies themselves the least” in tenth grade biology. That year our grades were 25 percent homework and 75 percent tests. I got at 76, because I got some extra credit on the tests. I never even took my book home, never looked at the homework. I thought that class was easy, too easy. so I just cruised along. Despite knowing how the grades were calculated I somehow assumed I would be ok. It caught up with me that year but I never really learned the lesson. In high school the grades really didn’t matter, now in college this attitude had it caught up with me again this semester. I put minimal effort in and will get a minimal grade out and, for me at least, the GPA here counts for much more than it did in high school.

This is a lesson more valuable to my life than any lesson I have learned in any other class. It is a lesson more valuable than any skill or facts I could learn. More than knowledge it is wisdom. Wisdom I will remember for the rest of my life: don’t ever do anything half-assed, do it right or don’t do it at all. As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

In closing

In closing this examination, of myself for this class, I can say that Study of Eastern Thinking has been one of the most informative experiences in my life. One that I hope will be a transformative experience in my life. I have learned simple lessons; about worrying, about losing sight of what matters. Lessons that I hope I can apply to all aspects of my life now and in the future.

As with the essence of Zen, what I have learned I cannot express properly in words in a way that will make someone understand. It can be summed up in a words or a phrase, but slogans don’t make understanding. It is a feeling, and feelings must be felt personally to be understood. I am satisfied that I have, only now in the end, accomplished the true objectives of this class, from it to it and everything in between.


Zen at Walden Pond

This is the first of two posts from an introduction to eastern philosophy class I took in 1997. I’m only posting this paper to tell a story about my own path to learning. The paper itself is not good, in fact it is quite bad. at best repetitive, poorly organized and altogether lackluster —showing no real insight into the material. For the second paper see here [], for the whole story see here [].

Zen. Simplicity. The feeling of simplicity i feel when reading Zen brings back memories of other writings. Simplicity connected not with a monastery in the mountains of Japan, but in the reflections of life on the shores of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Life on Walden Pond imparted to me the same feelings of simplicity in living that Maura O’Holloran wrote about in Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind. Simplicity that is in the core of Zen. Simplicity of life living at Walden Pond. Walden helps me to understand Zen by relating to a more western perspective.

Henry David Thoreau’s Life on Walden Pond is a record of his everyday life during two years he lived there, alone, in a simple house he built in with his own hands. Zen is, Master Choa-chou said, “everyday thought.” Walden can be seen as the diary of Thoreau’s search for his version of enlightenment, living simply in the woods. In much the same manner as Thoreau, O’Halloran recorded her personal journey to enlightenment in the letters and diary that make up Pure Heard, Enlightened Mind. By documenting everyday experiences both authors allowed me to glimpse their personal journey down the path of life.

Living in Toshoji Temple O’Holloran learned the things no book could teach her. She learned the lessons of life, practical yet simple. The same lessons that Thoreau learned on the shores of Walden and recorded in his writing. “Walden, in short, is designed as a practical course in the liberation of the reader” (1676), writes Hershel Walker in The Norton Anthology of American Literature. In Walden Thoreau offers his everyday thoughts and experiences to the reader. Within its pages I shared in his journey to enlightenment. The idea that liberation comes through everyday living is summed up in one word in Japanese, “jiriki”. Jiriki refers to a persons attempt to “achieve enlightenment through his or her own efforts (Lindley). Jirkiki to me implies that to reach enlightenment we must learn from personal experience as opposed to what we can learn from outside sources, like books and people.

In Essays in Zen Buddhism, D. T. Sazuki says “Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one’s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom” (13). In Walden Thoreau says, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essentials facts of life” (75). Thoreau went to live simply. Alone at Walden Pond, without the distractions of others, he could look within himself. The simplicity of life on the pond allowed him to discard the bondage of society, peal back the layers and reveal himself.

To reach the Buddhist goal of becoming one with everything and gaining freedom from the bondage of life, O’Holloran struggled with the idea of “mu.” Mu is the Japanese word for nothing. O’Halloran concludes that she must “embrace mu”. To embrace mu a person must become one with everything. Abandon your ego and explore yourself outside the complexity of society. In modern society, many people have walled their true self behind the complexity of conformity. Thoreau left society because as he said “the life of a civilized people is an institution, in which the life of the individual is to a great extent absorbed” (26). The institution forces most people to conform in each situation, adding a layer of complexity to them. The child whose clothing does not conform is pressured into buying the cool cloths, pressured into conformity. Else he is shunned by his peers, and made an outcast of society.

Our society grows more complex each day. Everywhere we look a new gizmo that promises to make our lives easier, in fact makes it more complex. My world is the ever-changing world of computers, the epitome of complexity, I must spend much of my time learning the new technology in order to continue to use the computer. Because of the complexity of my life the simplicity of Thoreau’s life, on the shores of Walden appeals to me.

Thoreau reduced his life to only the essentials, Hershel Parker, commented of Walden, that “[Thoreau’s] life became a refusal to live by the materialistics values of this neighbors” (1679). Thoreau himself said “I have three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, I threw them out in disgust” (30). The limestone on the desk is like the many things that I buy in a vain attempt to fill my world with beauty, but only clutter my life. Over and over I buy new things to put in my house to make it more appealing. Thoreau’s last of things is what made his life simple. The simplicity made his life appealing.

Thoreau abandoned the object of his life, like the limestone that were not necessities. Mumon, a Zen master said, “the treasures of the house do not come in by the front door.” The “things” that we bring into our house unnecessarily are just fluff, useless. Thoreau said “bare feet are older than shoes, and [one] can made them do” (19). A quote in The Little Zen Companion says “I threw my cup away when is saw a child drinking from his hand at the trough” (133). Both the shoes and the cup are items that perform as specific job, one that we can perform without them. They are examples of the fluff that my life has become filled with. It is the fluff that hides the true treasure of the house. The true treasure that enters the house when we enter, and leaves when we leave. Simple treasure that are always with us.

Our treasures have always been inside of us, but we have filled or lives with complexity and hidden them. Thoreau simplified his life on the shores of Walden Pond, by removing the materialistics treasure, leaving only himself, his treasures. In his writings I glimpsed an undiluted look into his journey to find himself. The simplicity of his life is a beacon of hope in the complexity of my world. Walden left me with the belief that a simple uncluttered life leads us to a simple uncluttered mind. A mind in which we may experience our true selves. O’Halloran, Suzuki, and all other Zen masters an teachers I have read have only help to water seeds planted by Walden. Thoreau likely never new what Zen was but his insights into life would have made him a master of Zen to me. His words taught me the essence of Zen before I know what Zen was, and he continues to help me understand the Zen I read.

The bibliography is missing, but as I still have most of these books, except the Norton Anthology. Here is what I have:


My time has passed

Walking in the forest, I found a shovel sitting by a tree. So I dug a hole. A little way down I found a bone. Maybe a leg bone. Maybe human. I took the bone to the old woman who lives up the street. She deals tarot cards, reads palms and talks to the dead. The old woman told me it was indeed a human bone. She told me it had a violent past. Then she lit candles, burned incense, spoke in tongues, and communicated with the dead. Sitting in her living room surrounded by B-movie props I felt the air turn cold. A voice from the other side spoke; “leave me alone. My time has passed.” The old woman held out the bone for me and said, “bury it back where you found it.” So I returned to the forest, to the hole I had dug and I tossed in the bone. I picked up the shovel and filled in the hole. Then I took the shovel back with me and put it in the shed. Some stories were not meant to be told.