Day Twenty One: Skill

Just over two years ago, I lost everything, or so it seemed. I had already long since given up on one of my passions- writing. Writer’s block. My role as a new parent. Lack of a quiet space to do the work maybe. Experiencing no reward for writing, perhaps. I’m not sure why but I just stopped writing. Maybe those were just excuses. Back then, I had my identity and self worth tied up in my role as a bass guitarist.

Live with The Earps at Cruisin’ Route 66 Bar in St. Louis, Missouri. 2007

Besides writing, performing in bands was the other thing I did pretty well, or at least I did it my way, and the feedback about my skill at live performance with the instrument was generally positive. I could get just about any gig I wanted, without an audition, for many years. There was pride and self-esteem in that. The band, Moonshine Millionaires, broke up in the late summer of 2014, taking $12,000 a year away from me. But it wasn’t about the money either. It was about losing doing one of the few things I did well. Without it, I was just an unskilled warehouse worker. (Until I lost that job too a month later.) Depression kicked hard as I scrounged to replace Moonshine Millionaires with something of equal or higher value, but the gigs just got worse and worse.

Interesting parable today in 365 Tao about the “Five Things”.

Zither, chess, book, painting, sword.
These symbolize classical skill.

There was once a wanderer who cared nothing for fame. Although he had many chances for position, he continued to search for teachers who could help him master five things: zither, chess, book, painting, and sword.

The zither gave him music, which expressed the soul. Chess cultivated strategy and a response to the actions of another. Books gave him academic education. Painting was the exercise of beauty and sensitivity. Sword was a means for health and defense.

One day a little boy asked the wanderer what he would do if he lost his five things. At first the wanderer was frightened, but he soon realized that his zither could not play itself, the chess board was nothing without players, a book needed a reader, brush and ink could not move on their own accord, and a sword could not be unsheathed without a hand. He realized that his cultivation was not merely for the acquisition of kills. It was a path to the innermost part of his being.

What Deng Ming-Dao seems to be saying is the objects, like pen & paper, or the bass guitar, are not important. Rather we use those objects to cultivate ourselves internally and they are just tools. I had considered the bass guitar and the pen to be tools, but perhaps I was using them with wrong aims in mind. I think I mostly played my instrument for attention and adoration, for the accomplishment of goals to be proud of, and for the love and respect I did not receive while playing other roles in my life.

Rather, what if these instruments were used as vehicles for inner cultivation?

  • Expression of the soul
  • Strategy & response to the actions of others
  • Academic education
  • Exercise of beauty and sensitivity
  • Health & defense

What are my “five things”? I’m not sure yet. I can name at least three, the pen, the guitar and books. What about health and defense? What about strategy?

So even though my bass guitar is now stashed in my closet after 20 years of playing in bands and I have no gigs on the calendar anymore, it doesn’t matter. I have already cultivated the skills of expression, which I do not lose if I lose the tool, because it is internalized. The innermost part of my being.

Writing a Book:

One of my goals for 2017 is to write a book. I decided to use Published: The Proven Path From Blank Page To Published Author by Chandler Bolt for no reason other than I received a subscriber email from him announcing this book had come out, it was free with Kindle Unlimited, and it seemed like it might work out for me. After all, it’s a “proven path”.

Step One- “Look for the Why”, says Chandler Bolt.

End Goal: The level of success I’m aiming to achieve with my first book is to have a book available for download on Amazon and at least 200 people buy it, and have another item on the merch table that is kind of a novelty if I play in a band again in the future (and I probably will).

Purpose: My purpose for writing my first book is to share my story of rebounding from total collapse of my personal life as a sort of ‘self experimentation’ story.

Per his instructions, I downloaded and signed his Self Publishing School “Contract with Myself”, making a commitment of 1 hour/day of focused work to write and publish a book in the next three months.

I also did the “Free-Write Idea Dump” per his instructions.

We will see how this goes.

See ya tomorrow.

Day Four: Reflection

Moon above water. Sit in solitude. 

I started doing meditation for the first time on Monday nights with the Louisville Vipassana Community, led by Glenda Hodges-Cook, at the Clifton Universalist Unitarian Church

Glenda referred me to Joe Zarantonello at Loose Leaf Hollow in Bardstown to avoid the long drive to Louisville. 

“He’s a Catholic Buddhist. A Catholic priest who is also a Buddhist.” 


As I began attending and had a two hour or so 1 on 1 consultation with him, I learned that he has a Catholic background, but isn’t actually a priest at all. In fact, he’s a married, a teacher who retired from a local Catholic school in Bardstown and opened a retreat center at his home. The group meets on Thursday nights at 7pm. 

It took me a few months to figure out that you can’t really put labels on Joe, like Zen, Catholic, Buddhist, etc. 

I’ve only recently learned that there isn’t much need to categorize and label everything, a habit I picked up early on, noting in school that everyone assumes an identity to a group. 

Nerds. Jocks. Stoners. Rockers. Preppies. 

This habit was reinforced by the record stores, where everything is neatly categorized. 

Post-punk/New Wave. Psychedelia. Hard rock/metal. Ska/reggae. Jazz/fusion. 

Labels are useful to a point to find what you are looking for, but creating an identity with a certain label blocks you from experiencing other ideas and causes you to live in a bubble. 

So if I must apply labels and descriptions to Joe and Loose Leaf Hollow, it seems to be very influenced by Trappist monk writer Thomas Merton. Buddhism. Sufism. Zen. Irish poetry. Enneagram. Lapsed Catholicism. Contemplative writing. 

Meditation is just sitting. Or just walking. Or just writing. Or just washing dishes

You don’t have to be a Buddhist, a Taoist, a Zen practitioner, a monk, or a hippie to meditate. 

“If waters are placid, the moon will be mirrored perfectly. If we still ourselves, we can mirror the divine perfectly. But if we engage solely in the frenetic activities of our daily involvements, if we seek to impose our own schemes on the natural order, and if we allow ourselves to become absorbed in self-centered views, the surface of our waters becomes turbulent. Then we cannot be receptive to Tao.”
-Deng Ming-Dao

Today on the flight to Phoenix, I will use mind mapping to brainstorm book ideas.

 On December 6th, I received an email from Chandler Bolt announcing the launch of his latest book “Published. The Proven Path From Blank Page to Published Author” on Amazon. The new book is available on Kindle Unlimited, so I downloaded it, along with the free audio book version, available from a link on Page 3.  I decided to go ahead and use his system for writing a book this year. 

I have no idea what the book will be about at this time. 

“So many of us out there simply have stories to tell. Whether it’s a biographically-based tale of triumph, a step-by-step guide to solving a problem, or a fictional story crafted to entertain (yes, that includes children’s books)—they are all stories inside you waiting to get out. No matter what your story is, you can use it to make a difference in the lives of the people who read it. You have all these wonderful ideas running wild in your head. It’s not fair for you to keep something so great trapped inside. Why not share it? You never know what impact you are going to have.” 

– Chandler Bolt

The Tao Te Ching

I bought a copy of the Tao Te Ching, the Shambhala Pocket Classics edition,  translated by John C.H. Wu, for 7.99 plus tax in the gift shop at The Abbey of Gethesemani in New Haven, KY. 

Today, I read the first verse. 

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.

Translated by John C.H. Wu (1939)

And today’s little piece of Stoic wisdom:

“Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what’s outside your control. That’s all we need to do.”
-Ryan Holiday, The Big Three, from Daily Stoic