Bob Schwartz

Month: September, 2021

Emptying your mind is a good idea

Emptying the mind is not a total solution to problems, yours or the world’s. But it is beneficial enough to mention.

Emptying the mind is exactly what it sounds like. The techniques and practices, such as meditations and concentrations, are many. There are some that are more explicit about that outcome of empty mind. There are others that seem to be about filling your mind with a particular image or thought—visualizations, for example—but they are actually part of a two-step process. Whatever you concentrate on, however concrete, you are first letting go whatever is already there. If we assume that what is already there may be problematic, that first step is helpful.

What after emptying? This is where the particular traditions seem to diverge: what do you try to fill an empty mind with? Is it some high-minded thought about this principle or that, about this master or that?

This is to say ideally that it doesn’t matter. (Ideally because this is an imperfect world.) The empty mind is there not to make room for other stuff, like a room emptied of clutter only to be filled with even more clutter.

Most basically, whatever traditional particulars you read or are told, is seeing clear down and through yourself and all else. Without judgment, since while judgment has a place in the day to day, judgment has no place in an empty mind. There you find the thing and the person as they are. You find that each thing and each person—including yourself—is a text and a teaching different than the one you read before. With that, the particulars offered by the traditions also take on a new light.

Are the problems solved with an empty mind? Of course not. Are the problems different in the light of an empty mind? Of course.

The Galilee Hitch-Hiker

Following are all nine parts of Richard Brautigan’s work The Galilee Hitch-Hiker. You do not know that you need Richard Brautigan, this and his other works, but you do. Serious, sentimental, silly and sad, he responded to strange times and a strange life (aren’t they all?) in ways that would do any writer proud. Open hearts are the most vulnerable.

More about these poems and Richard Brautigan here.

The Galilee Hitch-Hiker

The Galilee Hitch-Hiker
Part 1

Baudelaire was
driving a Model A
across Galilee.
He picked up a
hitch-hiker named
Jesus who had
been standing among
a school of fish,
feeding them
pieces of bread.
“Where are you
going?” asked
Jesus, getting
into the front
“Anywhere, anywhere
out of this world!”
“I’ll go with you
as far as
said Jesus.
“I have a
at the carnival
there, and I
must not be

The American Hotel
Part 2

Baudelaire was sitting
in a doorway with a wino
on San Fransisco’s skid row.
The wino was a million
years old and could remember
Baudelaire and the wino
were drinking Petri Muscatel.
“One must always be drunk,”
 said Baudelaire.
“I live in the American Hotel,”
said the wino. “And I can
 remember dinosaurs.”
“Be you drunken ceaselessly,”
 said Baudelaire.

Part 3

Baudelaire used to come
to our house and watch
me grind coffee.
That was in 1939
and we lived in the slums
of Tacoma.
My mother would put
the coffee beans in the grinder.
I was a child
and would turn the handle,
pretending that it was
 a hurdy-gurdy,
and Baudelaire would pretend
that he was a monkey,
hopping up and down
and holding out
a tin cup.

The Flowerburgers
Part 4

Baudelaire opened
up a hamburger stand
in San Fransisco,
but he put flowers
between the buns.
People would come in
and say, “Give me a
hamburger with plenty
of onions on it.”
Baudelaire would give
them a flowerburger
instead and the people
would say, “What kind
of a hamburger stand
is this?”

The Hour of Eternity

Part 5

“The Chinese
read the time
in the eyes
of cats,”
said Baudelaire
and went into
a jewelry store
on Market Street.
He came out
a few moments
later carrying
a twenty-one
jewel Siamese
cat that he
wore on the
end of a
golden chain.

Salvador Dali
Part 6

“Are you
or aren’t you
going to eat
your soup,
you bloody odd
cloud merchant?”
Jeanne Duval
hitting Baudelaire
on the back
as he sat
out the window.
Baudelaire was
Then he laughed
like hell,
waving his spoon
in the air
like a wand
changing the room
into a painting
by Salvador
Dali, changing
the room
into a painting
by Van Gogh.

A Baseball Game
Part 7

Baudelaire went
to a baseball game
and bought a hot dog
and lit up a pipe
of opium.
The New York Yankees
were playing
the Detroit Tigers.
In the fourth inning
an angel committed
suicide by jumping
off a low cloud.
The angel landed
on second base,
causing the
whole infield
to crack like
a huge mirror.
The game was
called on
account of

Insane Asylum
Part 8

Baudelaire went
to the insane asylum
disguised as a
He stayed there
for two months
and when he left,
the insane asylum
loved him so much
that it followed
him all over
and Baudelaire
laughed when the
insane asylum
rubbed itself
up against his
leg like a
strange cat.

My Insect Funeral
Part 9

When I was a child
I had a graveyard
where I buried insects
and dead birds under
a rose tree.
I would bury the insects
in tin foil and match boxes.
I would bury the birds
in pieces of red cloth.
It was all very sad
and I would cry
as I scooped the dirt
into their small graves
with a spoon.
Baudelaire would come
and join in
my insect funerals,
saying little prayers
the size of
dead birds.

San Francisco
February 1958


For K


Unbroken broken repaired
which is stronger?
The story of making
all of a piece.
The hands that remade
hold the hands that made
all of a family.

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

Holy Day Butterflies (Rosh Hashanah 5782)

Holy Day Butterflies (Rosh Hashanah 5782)

The butterflies don’t know
that creatures sitting high
on the evolution tree
have set this day aside
counting calendars
and years by the thousands.
Don’t know exaltation.
Light appeared after dark
time to flutter
to decorate the seen
without yesterday or tomorrow.
Just another holy day.

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

Rosh Hashanah: The Birthday of the World

Hayom harat olam. Hayom ya’amid ba-mishpat, kol y’tzurei olamim.

Today is the birthday of the world. Today will stand in judgment all the beings of the cosmos.

The Birthday of the World: Audio story narrated by Leonard Nimoy

The birthday of the world
by Marge Piercy

On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding

of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.

No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?

How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where

have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke

the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling

my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.

Copyright © 2006 by Marge Piercy

Covid, Seat Belts and Cigarettes

If you watch old movies, you notice that nearly everybody smokes—sometimes one cigarette after another, sometimes two at a time—and that nobody wears seat belts in cars.

Around the 1960s, the link between smoking and cancer was being accepted and the movement to add seat belts to cars was ramping up. Smoking was never banned, but social pressure and evidence reduced it substantially. Seat belts became required.

Loud liberty activists then and now are quick to say that they are free to smoke 24/7 and are free to drive without restraint, and while we are at it, without speed limits.

One obvious comment is that if you live totally alone, and nothing that happens to you involves other people, that would be fine. But you don’t live alone and your choices do affect other people. Whether they are the people you care about and who care about you, whether they are the people you share the highway with, and those who rescue you and treat your bleeding body or bury it.

To make it more direct:

People you know, people you love, have been saved by the reduction in smoking and the use of seat belts. You may have been saved by the reduction in smoking and the use of seat belts.

That isn’t hard to understand. Advocates of Covid personal freedom can go ahead and write their erudite essays on the philosophy of liberty, if they can. They might not finish it before they take to their beds or end up in the hospital, or someone they know or love does.

Maybe they can’t write that essay, but I know someone who can. Kris Kristofferson is a great songwriter and performer. He was also an Oxford University scholar. Maybe the lyrics to his famous song aren’t Oxford worthy, but they are true:

Freedom’s just another word
For nothing left to lose
Nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free

Rosh Hashanah 5782: Father Time and Baby New Year

It is not traditional, maybe not appropriate to some, to associate the iconic characters of Father Time and Baby New Year with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, which begins next week on the evening of September 6.

I don’t see why they can’t be a little part of the holiday.

Rosh Hashanah and the ten days that end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are filled with reminders about the passage of time and with suggestions about how to start fresh and new. So a couple more reminders can’t hurt.

Note that while Baby New Year may not be quite as old as Judaism, the character does go back pretty far. It was first used by the Greeks around the 6th century BCE. So it is very likely that Jews knew about Baby New Year over the centuries, even if it didn’t end up in Rosh Hashanah.