The Slightly Sour Scent of Samsara


“Do a little thinkin’, get a little stinkin'”. This phrase just came together in my head laid over the flow of mantra as I scrounge around the house for a fresh, clean warm shirt to wear. Engaged recently in more writing than usual, I can’t help but notice the change in my body-scent. It is something unusual for me, this vague sourness wafting up from the armpits — I’ve always been someone who people say don’t have a noticeable scent, somewhat strangely so.

I’m doing another load of laundry as I’ve just run out of my only two sweaters — and they were just washed 4 days ago! This change in scent only comes from thinking. It’s like you can sense the overwork of the brain, even though I’m not really working that hard, and have no boss or schedule hanging over these efforts. Maybe it is the effect of some years of regular meditation: even a little bit extra of frontal-cortex behaviour appears, and the stress is pronounced — announced — out to my evolutionary field. Dae Soen Sa Nim’s teaching comes to mind: “The mind makes the body, and the body makes the mind.” Around and around and around and around — our own little body/mind samsara…

I have a Dharma-brother who spent some years in a hardcore prison in Poland. He told me that when new guys were brought in, it was possible to determine their level of fear by the scent they gave off. He said that prison-life taught him how a functioning hierarchy was established through the natural function of his evolutionary tools. “Too much nitrogen smell, then this new guy can be controlled. No nitrogen-smell, keep away, and be nice!”

Through a desire to express teachings in writing and video, to at least try this expedient means, there is an increase in thinking. An increase in thinking presents a kind of stress. This stress is telegraphed to the near-environment: “Come! Eat me! Or take my ovulating females! Get my food! I am thinking, thinking more than usual. This thinking, it makes me weaker. It overwhelms my other evolutionary gifts. Now, I am out of balance — more vulnerable than without-thinking’s natural clarity and balance and strength. An easier target. Come eat me!”

The scent of nervousness is the signature of the hunted — I am sour in tooth and claw. Thinking.

A superb Bhavacakra (“wheel of life”) by the artist Andrew Archer.

Love Songs Are Samsara (1)


Once, after completing a 35-day intensive solo retreat in the mountains of Western Massachusetts, back in 1993, I returned to life back in busy Cambridge to encounter a realization as painful as my spiritual breakthroughs had (are) vast and indescribable: The pop songs (the vast majority of which are some variant of “love songs”) that fill our spaces, public and private, in wall-to-wall ubiquity, are, in fact, thinking poison-pellets that stimulate, perpetuate and exacerbate the suffering-mind of longing, loss, alienation, confusion, mental dislocation, competition, etc etc etc. that we struggle with for this entire human existence, for however long we live. We all maybe “know” this, on the surface, about many songs. But it was then that something in my deepest cells recognized, for the very first time — while sitting in a coffee shop in Central Square, Cambridge, midway between Harvard Square and MIT — the inescapable totality of this ever-present mental programming, this endless feedback loop replaying to us everywhere the bitter soundtrack of human psychology’s most typically recurrent dissatisfactions, things touching everything that has been burned into us from our earliest human memories and fears, as living organisms suddenly cast out of a warm moist space into this glaring world with its maddening, endless movement and unfillability.

I gave a Dharma talk about this recently. And it follows in the next post. Perhaps this little teaser does a better job than the much longer Dharma talk I gave. So I share it first: