Reaching the zenicle

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 9, 2014 10:32 PM

Cooper, like Maguire before him, is not allowed on the furniture. Cooper, like Maguire before him, is allowed on the bed in the morning for a morning snuggle. This is why we used to and continue to buy bed-in-a-bag. Maguire used to race in the bedroom after his morning constitutional which consisted of the usual, plus a large milkbone dog cookie that was always eaten in the exact same spot in the back yard. When he was young he would virtually launch himself from just inside the bedroom door and land on the bed as nimbly as 85 pounds of fur allowed. He’d then promptly come up to me, since I was still in the bed, cringing at the possibility of being crushed, kiss me good morning and flop over on his back for a belly rub.

After he was done, he’d try to snuggle for a little while but he invariably got hot and uncomfortable so he got down. The only time he stayed on the bed was when he had it all to himself. We’d often find him snuggled up against the throw pillows that I put on after making the bed, snoring in the sun. If he woke up, he’d look at us with a “what? I’m just taking a nap here” kind of look.

Cooper doesn’t usually get up on the bed if we’re not in the room. He’s not secure enough in his canine-ity. Maguire was a very secure dog, probably because we got him as a puppy and we were all he knew, and all he knew was safe. Cooper was a rescue and he had six years of not safe before we came into the picture. He never knows if he’s going to get left behind again, and so he clings; he’s anxious. He’s incredibly insecure in his canine-ity.

But in the mornings, when we’re still in bed, he too manages to jump aboard the California King train and zen out. He curls around, once, twice, three times and then he plops himself down. He keeps his head up momentarily, then he falls over to the side in a heap. He sighs heavily. Before long, he’s snoring. He would stay that way all day if we stayed in bed as well. He won’t stay though if we get up because of his insecurity.

Still, while there, he reaches the zenicle, something I realized this morning as I was watching his feet twitch as he dreamed of dog-knows what.

We humans constantly strive to reach a pinnacle of something. Pinnacle of strength, of influence, of career, of love. Watching Cooper this morning and Maguire when he was alive, made me wonder about reaching the pinnacle of zen.

Reaching the zenicle is all about letting go, letting the day simply be, allowing the moment and the atmosphere and the feeling to wash all over you and around you. To find the ultimate zen.

Now Cooper and zen are mostly at odds. His version of zen is chilling at mach II instead of mach III. He does manage to reach it briefly when he’s on the bed but it doesn’t last. He gets to the place where all is right in the world, now and forever. It is a place filled with cheese and pizza bones and where his parents hug and kiss and squeeze on him all day long and where Wubba never needs to be replaced.

And then someone gets up and the zen is broken.

Can the feeling of zen be maintained?

Bobbi’s online call sign, as I refer to it, has long been zenspeed. Obviously a play off of godspeed which is the ultimate wish for good luck, good life and good travels. zenspeed is more about the ultimate wish for achieving peace and tranquility. It’s the pinnacle of zen – the zenicle – and it’s a good place to reach. 

The allure and wonder of children's books

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:36 PM

I discovered children’s books at a relatively late stage in development. I think I was about 35. I’m not sure what finally made me realize how wonderful and insightful they can be, but I distinctly remember one Christmas when I decided that what I was going to get all of my clients was a children’s book that had something to do with either what they did or how they lived their lives. I went to Barnes & Noble and settled into the children’s section in the back of the store. I knew I was going to be there for a long time and I was right. I had at least 15 people I was buying for; that meant 15 different books.

I sat on the floor for hours, studying titles, admiring illustrations, reading the stories. I had three piles. One for absolutely positively. One for maybe we’ll see. The third for no way no how. The third pile consisted of books that were mostly too literal and too childish. I know it’s odd to think about since children’s books, by nature and title, should be somewhat childish. But many are quite profound. Many are perfect for adults. Though most are more of the Goodnight Moon variety and definitely for someone who’s 3 and not 30.

I found some wonderful books by Jamie Lee Curtis, some by authors I didn’t recognize. Many of those I chose had watercolor painting illustrations. I gathered up books on color, on questions, on love, on ideas, on creativity, on sharing. Some I bought were Caldecott winners; most were not. I wasn’t looking for award winners; I was simply looking for books that touched me, that talked to me, that rang true.

From Zen Shorts, by Jon Muth

The thing about children’s books is that most do ring true. You can’t be false with children, or at least, you shouldn’t be. You should be straightforward and lyrical, fun but not afraid to be somber, honest and real. Children have a unique way of knowing when something is false. It’s what I admire most about children. It’s what I love about them. Their truth, their forthrightness, their ability to see things for what they are as opposed to what they wish they would be. That kind of cynicism comes later but not much later. It begins before they’re 10, on average, and continues to grow, unabated, until children become adolescents become adults become children again.

Perhaps that’s what I like most about children’s books. They are cyclical. We all start out helpless; we all end that way as well, at least to an extent. It’s the cycle of life. The best children’s books have something to do with that cycle in some way or another.

When Bobbi graduated from Pepperdine University a few years ago, with her Master’s Degree in Psychology, I knew exactly what I was buying for her graduation gift. There was a party for the graduates and their families at a restaurant not far from here. Pepperdine is on the cliffs above Malibu, also not far from here. The restaurant is called Zin Bistro. Bobbi’s parents were in town for the big event. It was a small gathering, and we weren’t going, but we still wanted to be there. I went to my favorite children’s section in my favorite Barnes & Noble, sat on the floor and went through dozens of books. I couldn’t find one that rang true, though I found many that were lovely. I was about to give up. My mind had already started thinking about what else I could do. I started to panic, quietly. When I’ve decided that I know what I want to do and can’t find what I need, I get antsy; I get manic. I got up from the floor, I stood in front of the hardcover section, I turned around to face away from the books and then turned back. Something inside me whispered “it’s there, right in front of you.” This has only happened once or twice before, where I just get a feeling and know that I’m about to find what I’m looking for. The other time was when I wanted to find a 1961 Pebbles Flintstone doll for my sister at a swap meet. In the last row, near the last booth, there she was, waiting for me on a folding card table.

I reached out my hand and pulled Zen Shorts from the shelf. It was perfect. Bobbi loves Buddhism, her online name is zenspeed, The story is simple. A panda named Stillwater befriends three kids and teaches each valuable lessons to help them handle the events in their lives. He uses classic Zen teachings to challenge perspective on our own lives through emotions like anger, worrying and jealousy.   

Like I said, perfect. I bought it, wrapped it, and dropped it off at Zin Bistro before the party.

Maybe it’s because of the holiday, maybe it’s because of the horror in Newtown, but I find myself drawn to children’s books again this day. I find myself celebrating their wonder, their joy, their purity of spirit. There is no better way to live it out loud than through the truth of a simple, profound and simply profound tale.                              

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