by Jim Merrill

Arguing with Something My Dharma Teacher Said                                                                    

There was a bumper sticker in Colorado in the 90’s that said, “Shit Happens” —  you remember the one? The next one was a very clever retort: Nothing Happens. But you wouldn’t get it unless you were part of an in-group, the new age western Buddhists of Boulder — really anyone of the Nihilist persuasion that holds: man’s place in the universe is not just puny, but non-existent; nothing real in his mind.

I’d be driving around Boulder visualizing world peace, trying to determine if I really exist, or only in a dream of driving — always a possibility in my hippie west coast groove; I’d be tooling down Arapahoe Boulevard in my ’84 Volvo wagon, blithely reading bumper stickers, such as another favorite of the day, “Visualize Whirled Peas”.

I can see trees swaying overhead, recoiling from the fierce winds blowing down Boulder Canyon, off the Front Range. I could be back there now — it’s my mind, so why not go?  I’ve just spied a squirrel tip-toeing, ballerina style, across the high wire stretched over College Blvd. And I’m pondering the koan I just read on a woman’s  T-shirt that said: “Stop Staring at My Breasts”.  She opened the door of her apartment to show me a car she had for sale in the paper. Now I’m thinking about her breasts, so basically I bought the car without giving it a second look.

Back to driving my old beater on its last legs and I’m worried if that squirrel is going to make his way across the wire, or even if he is really there. That’s silly, of course he’s there. But is he in a dream of his own illusion, or is it only we humans who are tripping through this life of illusion? So then I start a dialog with my dharma teacher.

Actually he wasn’t there. But he had told me that it is my obstinate ego that is clinging to the notion of reality. And then, “Boom!” — I tailgated the guy in front of me who’s stopped at the railroad tracks while I’m looking up at a squirrel and arguing with something my dharma teacher told me.   


Aging Is About …

letting grudges dissolve into blurred lines like

white dashes on the highway widening, becoming


And about walls no longer making good neighbors and

about how piling up boulders of separation is not worth

the price of a bad back the next morning. About accepting

the rules of gravity and respecting collisions between hard

surfaces and harder hearts. Aging is about sitting still more

often than not. And about not resenting strangers for breaking

your concentration on private flights through old memories,

pondering isolation and its malcontents.

Aging is not about forever chasing the ultimate high or the

perfect sunset in the endless summer while drinking a

margarita In Cabo de Paradisio. In fact, for me …

aging has become watching three-fifths of my favorite hard-

core rock band touring with the surviving members sporting

long stringy white hair under a balding dome like Friar Tuck.

And sitting in concert with my son who knows more about punk

rock trends than I’ve forgotten about the Beatles and the Stones.


Jim and Harumi Merrill live in Keizer.  Jim is a former teacher at Chemawa Indian School.