East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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For Others

how-to-walkI’ll take this a rather circuitous way – but you should be used to it by now.
I was given a book as a gift, for my latest birthday – Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Walk.
I always was a long-distance walker.
When I was a student I used to walk instead of taking a bus, to save the money and buy books, or records. Later, when I started driving (I was a late starter), I tried to keep walking, and recently, after years of inactivity, I picked up hiking again.
This, coupled with my long-standing interest in zen, made me really curious or reading that particular book.
And I found it very good – simple, down to earth, and filled with great intuitions.
And there’s a passage, in it, that goes like this…

Sometimes I say I walk for my mother or that my father is enjoying walking with me. I walk for my mother. I walk for my teacher. I walk for my students. Maybe your father never knew how to walk mindfully, enjoying every moment like that. So I do it for him and we both get the benefit.

I was touched deeply by this one because I read it about one month after my father passed away. And it touched me also because I had already done that – twenty-five years ago. Continue reading

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The only thing I have left

hyams zenI bought my copy of Joe Hyams’ Zen in the Martial Arts in 1992, while I was in London1.
The friend that was with me in the bookstore dismissed this beautifully illustrated book as

typical Yankee-a##hole mystical crap

and he was completely off the mark – but he was a very self-centered person, the sort that gets a kick out of making feel bad the people around them.

In his book, Hyams relates a discussion between himself, Bruce Lee and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant2, about time. Continue reading

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Smile, breathe and go slowly

zen21Going back to zen practice is a good strategy to handle the small acts of daily brutality that seem to be part of the deal when you start writing – be it a blog, a series of ebooks or anything public.
Stick out, speak your mind, tell your story, and somebody will decide that putting you in your place is their life’s ultimate mission.

After all that’s one of the perks of writing, right?
We motivate people.
We put something in their lives.

So, considering I got myself three king-sized servings of brutality this last week, I went back to my zen books and resources, looking for some quick-and-dirty wisdom. Continue reading

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Cover of "Writing down the Bones"

Nathalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is (together with Tom Robbin’s Still Life with Woodpecker) the book that got me back to writing after a long dry spell, back in the ’90s*.

Right now I’m re-reading my second-hand copy of Wild Mind – Living the Writier’s Life, which is an ideal sequel to Writing Down the Bones.

The book was very dear to the previous owner – words and passages are underlined, stars are to be found in the margins, marking ideas or paragraphs the previous owner found significant. Continue reading

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Again on the joys of research…

1744332216-500x500I said it in the past and I’ll keep saying it – the best part of writing historical adventure is often doing research.

A few years back I taught a course on Taoist Culture for the Italian-Chinese association in Turin.
It was a short introductory course, based on my somewhat non-systematic study of Taoism and Zen – something I started as an “interest” in the mid-80s.

The course was well received – and with the money I got from it I decided to buy me something I had desired for a long time: the four volumes of Thomas Cleary‘s translations of the Taoist Classics, published by Shambhala Publications. Continue reading