Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sex, Mosquitoes, and the Quenching of Desire

I asked the Dalai Lama a couple weeks ago what he thought about sex. He didn't answer my question. Neither did my Buddhism professor in college when I asked him...in fact, he yelled me out of his office. The question remains, however: how does one reconcile the craving inherent in sexual desire with the teachings of Buddha, who says that the root of all suffering is desire?

Augustine had similar problems with reconciling purity of heart with sexual desire: for a man at least, the cultivation of sexual desire involves nurturing the seeds of lust until they become full-blown. At muturity, lust looks for a home, the satiation of its overwhelming desire. One cannot have sex without lust--the grasping after sensual pleasure--and it was this that Augustine had a problem with.

When a man gains control over his body he becomes like a fisherman who is able to catch fish with his hands. In ancient times knights were sometimes forbidden to sleep with their wives before battle since P.E.D. (Post Ejaculatory Depression, a term I was recently enlightened to by a friend) causes sloth and dulls aggression; the mind must be alert to fight.

It's not so much that having dulls the mind; rather, it is that a lack of sex (and the ensuing accumulation of sperm and testosterone) hones attention and allows one to shift energy from one chakra (muladhara-root) to another. Orgasm is a tremendous outflux of energy. When desire is sated, thoughts of sex (again, for men) virtually disappear...for a time. As lost sperm is replenished, sexual energy and aggression commensurates.

But if sperm never leaves the body (not willingly, at least), the tremendous energy seated in the root chakra pools, and it can be channeled upwards toward the head (sahasrara) chakra. Sometimes the energy can be so forceful, you can literally feel it pushing against the insides of your abdomen, trying to get out. The practice then becomes a force of will--keeping sexual desire in check for the benefit of ascetic training takes a great deal of concentration. Desire works like a storm cloud rolling in, letting loose, then retreating, for a time. Some of the most fruitful meditations I have had have been when I was the most charged up sexually, especially at Suan Mokkh, where all manner of sex was strictly forbidden.

Meditating while in the company of mosquitoes has also proved to be good practice. When bitten, the desire to scratch a bite is almost maddening. But if one scratches it, it only gets worse; as long as one gives in to the desire, the bite will never go away. And so gritting one's teethj and refraining action while mosquitos suck themselves stupid, falling bloated to the ground, victims of their own desire, the mind soon learns that the desire to scratch an itch does not last forever, and if left alone, will pass away like a spectre in the night.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Andrew Gerber is a special person.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Opportunity for Grace Comes In Ugly Packages

If you've ever been cheated on you know the feeling of holding the golden kernel of forgiveness in the palm of your hand; to have someone beg you for it is an incredibly humbling event. The opportunity to forgive such a painful, shameful, ugly sin is a token gift, a free offering on God's behalf, to give you a taste of what it is like to live with the gain and burden Christ carried with him his whole life.

In terms of betrayals, Peter's sin against Jesus, his denial, is perhaps the most adulterous, because it was a betrayal of trust, and of friendship--something of God. How does it feel to be betrayed by someone you love? He asks us when it is staring us in the face, glowing scarlet red, images dancing in the tongues of fire? It is intoxicating, the hurt; it commands a sense of entitlement, and desire for a home--but an even stronger desire to be free.

But entitlement of this kind only makes one into what he believes himself entitled to be: an exacter of vengeance. As the searing sin slices through the air like a comet towards him, he winds up to return the volley. The moment the ball hits the racket is the moment when one decides what he really wants to be in this life. Analogous to de Chardin's theories of evolutionary consciousness, life gets separated into two camps: those who forgive, and those who bind. And so Christ's prophecy is made manifest in the decision of a single act, any act, of such forgiveness: "what you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Big sins require big grace, and adultery--married or otherwise--is no exception. When this was staring me in the face a few months before my anticipated wedding date five years ago, the bottom my trust was standing on dropped out, and a vacancy emerged. There were two distinctive parties interested in occupying them. Each pleaded their case.

The first kept reminding me of what had happened, what had really happened. He held up photographic images, replayed audio, showing surveillance footage of the events leading up to it, as a lawyer might show a jury in order to get a conviction. Whether it happened or not was irrefutable (it had)--the only thing to be contested was a sentence weaker than the one this party felt it warranted. This one bought me drinks, and talked a lot about justice, fairness, consequences, and the importance of not letting crimes go unpunished. He was aggressively interested in occupying this vacancy, and making sure the person responsible for the damages was not allowed to walk.

The other party interested in filling this space did not speak. Instead, he merely showed me a photograph, of myself, on my knees, pleading for my life. I recognized the picture, when it was taken, the things surrounding me. The embarrassing sense of urgency, weakness, and regret was stifling. He showed me picture after picture, each time the same except for the surroundings. It was the passage of time, frozen, diced, and presented visually as a scrapbook. I was the subject of every picture. He asked for the room, and held a mirror to my face in payment.

Time stood still; the smell was acrid: It was paralyzing. In my hesitation a wind picked up, and I felt something rush through me from the inside out. My body felt like it was glowing, and my fingertips became like tips of light. I was living in the shell of my body while something rushed in and filled every gap between every cell in my body. It occupied the empty space and when it had reached every crack and crevice in which it could abide, it continued to expand, pushing against my skin, welling my insides, aching to seep out through my mouth, my ears, my eyes. It did, and before I knew it I had the source of my pain between my arms, stroking her hair, telling her that I loved her, with little recognition of what had happened.

The Urban Hermitage MTV Debut!

"Rob Marco has decided to quit his job and move out of his house with the goal of building a portable, one-room home out of almost entirely recycled materials. He's also chronicling the project on a blog in the hope of teaching others about the benefits of simple, sustainable living. In this video I talked to Rob about why he decided to make such a signficant lifestyle change, the materials he's using and what can be learned from living the simple life."
by CassidyHartmann on Jul 18,2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Really Like Smoking Weed

I really do. And I'm going to have to give it up soon.

When you engage in spiritual training, and you do it with the mindset of an Olympic athlete, you encounter the resistance to whatever it is you are training for, and it only gets stronger the more you train. Muscles rip and heal stronger than they were before. This is the spiritual training--the mind of an athlete--that St. Paul spoke of. You have to watch your diet. You have to train even when you are still tired from the day before. You have to endure pain. It is the way of a Champion.

More and more I have less and less reasons to continue to disregard the 5th Precept regarding the use of intoxicants in accordance with the Theravada tradition:

"The Fifth Precept is to refrain from taking intoxicants. Drink and drugs dull and befuddle the precious human intellect. Leading to heedlessness they are the root of many other wrong behaviours and much personal and social misery. Buddhism is all about sharpening and clarifying the mind which is the exact opposite of what we get from alcohol or marijuana etc. Those who think they can make progress on the path and indulge in intoxicants are only fooling themselves. And there is no ground for the view that a little doesn't hurt. We wouldn't consider applying this standard to the other precepts; a little bit of killing or stealing for example. A small pile of dung still smells like dung. The right amount of drink is none."

Trying to get around this is like trying to get around Jesus' teaching on divorce--all justifications for it fall to the floor like sparrows flying headfirst into a window they didn't see. And it really sucks because, like I said, I really like smoking weed.

My liberal stance towards the use of cannabis and other drugs relates it analogously: "A bowl to me is like a beer, you see?" My attitude comes not so much from thinking that drugs are good to use (they aren't), but rather using it to point out the inherent hypocrisy in our drug laws regarding the double standard with alcohol. The reasons why alcohol should be illegal and cannabis legal (or illegal, depending on your moral perspective on the use and sale of intoxicants, even alcohol--(think Moslem law in the Middle East.)) are plenty when you take account deaths due to toxicity, drunk driving, liver failure, the propensity for the perpetration of rape...I could go on and on. I could say that until either alcohol is made illegal, or marijuana is made legal, I will continue to smoke, but that would really be missing the point.

The point is that Buddha is right: drugs do cloud the mind. When I smoke, I smoke to relax, but that in large part comes from getting high. The only insight drugs offer come from a mind impaired, lazy, as if one had dementia. They are used as a shortcut to temporary enlightenment, but they are false: they show reality distorted, not reality perceived.

So in a little over two weeks, I am vowing not to ingest intoxicants for the purpose of intoxication. This includes nicotine, drugs, and heavy alcohol use. I don't particularly want to give any of these up. But then again, I don't like exercising, either. This is life under the cruel tutelage of Atony of Egypt.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Three Realizations

I realized three things tonight:
*To follow Love is to die.
*To not follow Love is to die.
*St. Antony is to be my new master. We will get acquainted first thing tomorrow morning, I'm sure.

"The Stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Two Days With the Dalai Lama

i'm posting this quick email to my parents to save retyping everything on this blog. i am so excited, it will be hard to sleep tonight! kate [and random lady from michigan]...you da bomb!

>>that's great! [that you are having a good time in Montreal]. well, what's going on with me is that my friend kate scored tickets for me to take a class on the Law of Dependent Origination with the DALAI LAMA at Lehigh tomorrow and tuesday. it has been a week long class, and tim has been going as well. we are going to meet up on our lunch break. A Tibetan Buddhist text was recently translated and the Dalai Lama said he would teach a class on it to Westerners in Bethlehem when it was completed; he made that commitment over a decade ago! he is a very very wise man, and funny. i went to see him in NYC a few years ago but after waiting in line for two hours because of post 9-11 security, i was only able to hear the words "thank you, bye bye," after a long series of chanting. i was glad i heard even those few words from a living, breathing bodhisattva who will probably be gone in my lifetime, but now i get to take an entire lecture with him! total stroke of good fortune. i better get to bed, though...my ride is coming at 6:30 tomorrow. i will let you know how it all goes. have fun! love,


New Children's Book

David the Bicycle

Poem: Morning Meditation

The incense smoke
rips and curls through the air
on its way to extermination--
it is filled with the spirit
of everything material.
Watching it waft up from its source
is like watching someone you love die
over and over again.
Just as suffering repeats itself, begins and ends,
the fiddles of smoke fade into nothingness
and disappear.
It is distressing to watch smoke vanish
when you relate it to your self,
a mirrored reflection.
The smoke can be bottled and captured,
but not for long.
like cold air escaping from a freezer,
slowly, slowly,
it drips through the fingers like water;
like dirt in a glass of water,
it eludes the constraints of form.
The wind blows but one does not know
from whence it came.
But the smoke follows as commanded,
this way and that.
My head remains hardened in place,
but my eyes bounce back and forth,
following its trail
thinking each time it will remain.
In desperate attempt, I try to pinch the head
of a piece of smoke shaped like a dragon.
Like a worm, it splits in two--
twin serpents, wriggling away
on the way to the world
of nothingness.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Urban Hermit

When Fr. Vince reminded me of "The Philadelphia Hermit" and his urban eremitic life, my heart leaped in my chest, the way the fetal John the Baptist jumped for joy in Elizabeth's womb when her cousin Mary came to visit, bearing John's cousin, the Saviour, in her womb. Richard Withers, who was officially inducted with the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in 2001 by Cardinal Bevilacqua, became the first hermit the Archdiocese has ever accepted. This was made possibly largely by revisions made to Canon 603 in 1983 which allowed for bishops to recognized hermits in their diocese (traditionally, hermits are members of an monastic Order and not under diocesan jurisdiction). Withers lives in the ghetto in a rowhome and works one day a week at a company that manufacturers scientific instruments to allow him to live his minimal eremitic life. (photo: Br. Stephen, Mt. Saviour Monastery's resident hermit. He's nice, and funny too!)

Fr. Vince told me about the Philadelphia Hermit in response to my complaints in spiritual direction of being stuck in "some kind of purgatory," feeling that neither marriage nor cenobitic life had the potential to satisfy my longing for God, or as Withers said, ''[that] almost unremitting desire to be alone with God.'' It is so palpable, and so unforgiving in its persistence. But the joy that comes from even considering the possibility of following Withers example is overwhelming. Maybe it was no accident that I was consumed with the need to devise a way to actualize the possibility of this life for myself through the construction of the Urban Hermitage. Like Noah's Ark, the hermitage becomes the vessel of salvation; when the world is in flames thanks to our steady destruction of it over the centuries (global warming), I will not be there to watch it burn, having cast off, taking refuge in the unquenchable ocean of God Consciousness. It is almost too unreal to think about for too long, like looking at the sun with the naked eye; the joy is too great.

outside my adopted hermitage at Mt. Saviour at dusk

Friday, July 11, 2008


The pupil disgraces the Master;
with his wanton carelessness--
tea leaves on the ground.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Letter to Roshi Hojin

Zen Mountain Monastery
P.O. Box 197
Mt. Tremper, NY 12457

Thanks for your reply. I have been practicing zazen for about 10 years. I have made retreats at Dogen-Francis Hermitage in Camden, ME, and recently completed a 10-day Vipassanna retreat at Suan Mokkhabalarama Monastery, Chaiya, Thailand, studying Anapanasati under the direction of the Venerable Tan Anjan Poh, as an exposure to the Theravada tradition. I look forward to continuing my Zen practice at ZMM, and will look for the residency application in the mail.

Rob Marco

Pure Love

I just woke up from a dream. I was in love. It was the purest love for another person I have felt; the self had been emptied and filled with the spirit of a servant. She was leaving on a helicopter. I ran to find her before it left. When I found her, I told her I loved her, and I would always be with her. You have no idea how good it feels to be able to feel...anything. But especially selfless love; because it is of God. I want to give my life for love. And I want it to be pure.

The Living Buddha and the Tubmaker

Zen masters give personal guidance in a secluded room. No one enters while teacher and pupil are together.
Mokurai, the Zen master of Kennin temple in Kyoto, used to enjoy talking with merchants and newspapermen as well as with his pupils. A certain tubmaker was almost illiterate. He would ask foolish questions of Mokurai, have tea, and then go away.
One day while the tubmaker was there Mokurai wished to give personal guidance to a disciple, so he asked the tubmaker to wait in another room.
"I understand you are a living Buddha," the man protested. "Even the stone Buddhas in the temple never refuse the numerous persons who come together before them. Why then should I be excluded?"
Mokurai had to go outside to see his disciple.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dating is Some Kind of Purgatory

You don't realize how big an ego you have until it takes a beating in the Dating Ring. Not that I've even stepped in yet. But you can get shut down before you even have a chance to dance. Men are so goal oriented (I am no exception) that there is this painful sense of failure when you cannot get a date, or make an attempt to and get ignored, passed off, or shut down. Neurosis and insecurities start to set in. I realize women have their own burdens to bear in this game (mostly to do with appearance, since men hunt with their eyes), but they do have the upper hand in the sense that men have to produce the "burden of proof;" we have to plead our case to why you should consider dating us. In the 21st century there is still the unwritten expectation that we men have to put ourselves out there first, like drawing the short straw in a game of "You-Strip-I'll-Strip" (a game I just made up). Some men are great at it. I have to swallow a handful of Valium before I can even get the nerve to approach a girl. If you come on to strong you are a stalker. If you don't come on strong enough you don't get anywhere. It is competition for F.R. (finite resources), my number one fear, and I hate it. So much so that I want to abandon my entire six month subscription to FindaGoodCatholicWoman.com because the whole motherfucking process is just too much. And all I want to do is go out on a date with someone interesting and talk! Nothing serious! Is that too much? WTF!? ARGH!!! Men are cursed with loving women...we couldn't live without them if we tried.
I have decided on a new working title for my book. Check it:

Cover photograph by Kerry Ellis.

Friday is my last day at work in case management. Monday will be the first day of work as a writer.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Letter to Fr. James Orthmann, O.S.C.O

Fr. James Orthmann
Holy Cross Abbey
901 Cool Spring Ln.
Berryville, VA

5 July, 2008

Dear Fr. James,

Hello! It has been a number of years since I last wrote; I hope you will forgive the prolonged absence in communication.

I always find it hard to start a letter in cases like this, because I always forget where I left off. I am still living in Philadelphia and finishing my last year at Villanova; I will hopefully have my M.A. in Theology by the end of the Spring. I had been dating a woman for the past year and a half, but we recently parted about a month ago. While we were really compatible in a lot of ways, we both came to realize that we might not be the best match for a future together. We still talk, however, and remain good friends.

I’m always left to wonder why situations like this occur, whether it is happenstance or whether God has some hand in it. I was engaged to be married five years ago, but a severe manic episode that landed me in the hospital was the straw that broke the camel’s back in that relationship. I’m glad it didn’t work out, but at the time I was sure getting married was what I was supposed to do. My manic-depression was also a strain on my most recent relationship, but the breakup had more to do with this woman’s inability to deal with the demands such an illness puts on a person, especially someone who likes to have fun and be carefree. I must be full of cares! I’m not upset about this, but again, I had every intention of proposing to this woman, as I saw a good life together. As is the case most of the time, however, fate seems to have had other ideas for my future.

I was taken aback when I began to feel the familiar tug and pull of monastic life very soon after Jeannie and I broke up. Of course this could have been a reactionary response. Nevertheless, I was reminded of my conversion, and my entrance into the Church. I felt on many occasions that my seeking God had led me to the Church, and that in turn was the necessary prerequisite for becoming a monk, which I felt very strongly was my destiny. That calling has ebbed and flowed throughout the years, but it has never really gone away; if anything, it seems to have been lying dormant for a while, and has just violently woken up from a long slumber.

Having visited different monasteries and orders (Capuchins, Benedictines (active and contemplative), Cistercian), I have found again and again that the biggest resistance comes from my aversion to community life. I have always valued my freedom—that superficial freedom that allows me to do what I want, when I want, without having to answer to anyone—above all things, and the prospect of giving it up for the sake of the Gospel weighs on me. And yet I still feel called to do just that.

Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21 are haunting, because I have always felt, ever since I read this passage and took it in, that he was speaking to me:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."

He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

I have always felt a strong connection to Peter—his great desire, and his terrible weaknesses. To feel called to follow in his footsteps is a lot to take in, but really, this is the invitation that is extended to all of us. I just can’t get it out of my head. I trust that anything that falls from the lips of the Savior is good. But if I take this passage to heart, it is like walking along a level paved road and hitting the base of a mountain. Two roads stretch out ahead: one winding up and around the mountain, the other skirting it. If there are two roads leading to the same place, wouldn’t you take the easier one? Why do I feel like God is calling me to take the mountain road?

This is the absurdity of Abraham and Isaac that Soren Kierkegaard was also obsessed with: We are expected to follow God’s command, even when it defies reason and puts our lives at stake. In a sense monastic life is an equally absurd endeavor, eschewing the luxuries, pleasures, and freedom life in the world affords. But I do know that monastics would not choose such a life if it did not promise something greater that what the world can offer. You get what you pay for—heavy costs, invested in God, promise big returns. But like I said, those shares are not cheap.

I recognize that the constrictions in monastic life are for the benefit of a greater freedom. In that way I look to it as freeing, and in tune with that strong desire in me to be free—free from desire, free from sin, free from everything that keeps me from giving God my undivided attention. I know what He has to say is worth hearing. But as I mentioned earlier, I don’t know how I feel about being part of a community. This is at the heart of being led “where I do not want to go.” I value my solitude very highly, and have difficulty with community. Even when I joined the Church, I wished I could go to Mass and be alone with God, rather than standing in a crowd of people. Even now, I go to Mass more for the Sacrament than for any desire for community. Some people really want and need community, and I have just never felt that way. It’s troubling with regards to this call to monastic life, because I know community is at the heart of cennobitic life, and St. Benedict talks of those detestable monks who “follow their own law.” That is me. I am afraid I would not be a good monk.

I had been interested in the Carthusians and their solitary life for a number of years, but had never considered their order when thinking about my prospects for monastic life. But again, not long after Jeannie and I broke up, I felt a strong call to revisit that desire and at least visit to see if this is the life God might be calling me to. The Carthusians’ asceticism is intimidating and to be honest, when I think about the prospect of a one month residency, I get a knot in my stomach, the kind of knot you get before shipping off to boot camp, or before facing off in a wrestling meet: “I don’t want to go.” And yet these are the exact words Jesus used when foretelling Peter’s future crucifixion.

I feel that monastic life would be a very painful crucifixion of my will. Anyone in the world would tell me that having my own will is a good thing, but they don’t understand that I have vowed it to God; it no longer belongs to me. Even though I clutch and retain it when I can—and end up in the familiar pit of sin as a result—I have told God with all the sincerity in my heart, “I will follow you wherever you go.” God has taken me at my word, and still believes that I desire to give myself over to Him completely. But my assurance in that commitment is shaky, as giving myself over to anyone completely threatens the false autonomy I have been cultivating for so long. I want to do what I want, when I want, and I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and can’t do. This juvenile attitude is, obviously, inconsistent with the monastic ideal, but it is how I feel nonetheless.

I need help in discerning what this means. I don’t want to be like the rich young man. But then again, if I am honest with myself, I do. The Christian life lived fully and deliberately as a monk demands a lot, and I don’t know if I can cut it. But I still feel called. What does this mean? Is it not the right time, or are these indicators that I am not cut out for monastic life at all? Even if I did become a monk, I don’t know how I feel about a life lived in community. Maybe it is something that just takes getting used to? But I have always had an aversion to it.

It would be great to hear back from you. Hopefully at some point in the next year I might be able to come down to visit. I can tell you all about my 10-day Vipassanna silent meditation retreat that I did in Thailand last Fall. It was another boot-camp calling and while it was difficult, it was very much worth it.

In Xto,

Rob Marco

7/6 P.S.: I have decided not to visit the Carthusians at this time. I received affirmation in Adoration that it was not the right time. I do have a tendency to try to make things happen when they are not supposed to, and have come to learn it is better to listen when my instinct say otherwise. I think the world still needs me.

Dazed and Confused

I am not feeling well. I'm chalking it up to two days of nicotine withdrawal...I am sad, and edgy, and kind of lonely. 4th plans changed and the only fireworks I ended up watching were the ones being set off outside Hogan's by drunk 'Yunkers. It is hard for me to talk to anyone about my vocational 'crisis,' so I went to talk to the Lord this afternoon. I have been feeling very conflicted about going to the monastery and when I laid it all out, the Lord said it is too soon; I'm not ready yet. I think He may be right. Stuck between the world and the cloister again.

First Fruits

Vegetables, actually . . . baby carrots. Not very big yet, but tasty. Had to thin the crop anyway. There is also a single bean on the bean stalk. Tomatoes are starting to blossom. A sweet potato vine survived while twenty or so of his brothers withered and died. O.A. (One Arm) Buddha is being overtaken by the monstrous zucchini plant. Little okra plant has hit his growth spurt, as have the watermelon. Is it worth it? Meh.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Letter to the Abbot


1 July, 2008

Reverend Father,

I eschew the temptation to compose a long letter in favor of stating my purpose for writing outright. Through prayer and reflection, I have come to feel that God is calling me to the Carthusian way of life. While I have been discerning monastic life for almost ten years, and have visited many monasteries in the Benedictine, Cistercian, and Capuchin orders, I have no experience in the eremetic life and desire to 'come and see,' as our Lord invited those who wished to follow him.

While I have been moving towards a simpler, less encumbered life, I still realize there is much I am holding on to. I lack discipline. I am attached to freedom. I take to heart the Lord's words: 'anyone who puts their hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven," and "if you wish to be whole, sell all you have and come follow me,' and as they did to St. Antony, they have affected me strongly. I understand their challenges, and I accept them with fear and trembling.

I know there is no lasting happiness
that is to be found in this life that will satisfy me, and I beg to be shown a different way. And so I write to humbly ask acceptance as an Observer for the month of August; I have to be back in Pennsylvania for the start of the semester on the 25th (I am a graduate student in theology a Villanova University). I am 28 years old, and have never been married.

I have complete trust that if it is the Lord's will that I should go to Transfiguration for this period of observation and discernment, this letter will find its way safely to you and you will deem it worthy for consideration. If it is not God's will, then I am sure that will make itself known through your refusal. Either way, I just want to be happy, and I know the only way to make that happen is to follow the path God has laid out for me.

In Xto,

Rob Marco
Philadelphia, PA