Friday, August 19, 2011
Joseph Campbell says, “The world is filled and illuminated by, but does not hold, the Bodhisattva; rather, it is he who holds the world, the lotus. Pain and pleasure do not enclose him, he encloses them – and with profound repose.”
The Buddhist notion that everything is “empty” and that the meaning/purpose/function that we perceive coming from external forms actually originates from our own mind is beautifully illustrated by a most famous Christian:
Journalist: You know you can’t save them. They will all die.
Mother Teresa: Your strength falters because you only see poor sick people. My love endures because I see Jesus Forsaken in his distressing disguise.
The external forms – Calcutta’s lepers – are “empty,” yet the journalist and the Bodhisattva Mother Teresa had very different experiences, different realities, of the same forms. What Mother Teresa projected onto the empty forms was very different than what the journalist projected. Buddhism calls the mechanism by which we project meaning/purpose/function onto empty forms “karma.” Mother Teresa’s karma, her projection machine, created something noble and beautiful. The journalist’s karma created something ugly and depressing.
A book asked me today, “What do you want?”
“I want to let go of my attachment to bourgeois sensibilities – safety, comfort, convenience, fear, anxiety, the perspective of scarcity. I want the courage to live more, live better, live now, from a confident perspective of abundance.”
“If you got that, what would you then want?”
“I want to be an Explorer, Athlete, Mystic, Storyteller, Advocate.”
“If you got that, what would you then want?”
“I want to explore, have remarkable experiences, grow in my understanding, transform into a better person, live more, live better.”
“If you got that, what would you then want?”
“I want to be an example for others; to tell inspiring, encouraging stories; to help others transform their lives; to help others live more, live better.”
“If you got that, what would you then want?”
“I want to transform the world into a better place.”
“If you got that, what would you then want?”
And then it hit me. I want to be a Bodhisattva, creating heaven on earth with my good karma.
The Bodhisattva “is filled with compassion for the self-terrorized beings who live in fright of their own nightmare. He rises, returns to them, and dwells with them as an egoless center, through whom the principal of emptiness is made manifest in its own simplicity.”
All very poetic and dreamy, but an unrealistic fantasy, correct? Like Geshe Michael’s body of light that never dies.
When the Buddha was on the verge of enlightenment, his antagonist, Mara, the lord of Desire, demanded to know what right he had to be sitting on the navel of the universe, the immovable spot, about to attain ultimate understanding. The “future Buddha only moved his hand to touch the ground with his fingertips, and thus bid the goddess Earth bear witness to his right to be sitting where he was.” The Earth, a metaphor for this life as it is – Calcutta’s lepers and all - bore witness and the Buddha attained enlightenment. “This our worldly life is an activity of Nirvana itself, not the slightest distinction exists between them.”
The Dharma is subtle and elusive. I have fleeting moments when it is crystal clear, but then I slip back into Mara’s world, the journalist’s world. But I know that Nirvana is right here right now. The other shore of enlightenment is no different than this shore of greed, hatred and ignorance.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I was with Dr. B. I started to tell him that I loved him, I was grateful to him, and I had deep respect for him, but he stopped me short. He told me he was preoccupied with his own difficulties and I then noticed that he had been cut off at the knees (as in his lower legs were missing) and was struggling to move himself with only his arms. I went inside a small, messy office trailer. On one table off to the side there was a statue, about 18” tall, brown with yellow spikes on top, like a stylized tanned troll doll with blond crystals for hair. Dr. B. came in.
The office was on a huge mound of dark, fertile earth. There was an industrialist/capitalist outfit that was mining the fertile earth, looking for valuable treasure. A man came in. He wanted Dr. B. to direct him to the buried valuable treasure. Dr. B. gave him some instructions and sent him back out to his mining. The capitalist/industrialist had already found many valuable treasures in the fertile earth and Dr. B. directed him to other small pieces. Dr. B. and I looked at each other and somehow I understood that the statue on the table was the really valuable treasure and Dr. B. had uncovered it and set it aside for me. It would not be given to the capitalist/industrialist.
I woke up around 7AM and had the thought, “Dr. B. has died.” I prepared myself for Greg Foraker’s ordination ceremony at Saint Philip’s. The ceremony started at 10AM and I was the thurifer, so I was robbed in a cassock and processed with the alter party. It was a beautiful service and I was terribly moved by the symbolism. At one point, Greg lay prostrate on the ground while the congregation chanted in Latin Veni, creator spiritus. I remember thinking that the creator spiritus is also the eversor spiritus.
Midway through the ceremony, during the Peace, I went to greet a deacon and he told me that Dr. B. had died at 10:10AM.
So Dr. B. was still alive between 6:30 and 7AM when I was dreaming, but he was preoccupied with his own difficulties, cut off at the knees as it were.
I have not yet grieved Dr. B's death. I need a bit of distance and I need to be able to go "off-line" for a few days.
A little bio on Dr. B. that St. Philip's published today:
The Rev. Dr. Dan Behling died on Saturday, June 25, after a lengthy battle with cancer. He served as an Affiliated Clergy at St. Philip's since his ordination in 2006. Throughout his illness, he maintained his optimism, faith, and good humor.
Dan was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin. When the Korean War began, he joined the Navy as an enlisted medical corpsman. He attended officer-training courses and received his commission. He rose to become a hospital administrator and was stationed in such faraway places as Morocco and Alaska. He also worked for a time at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. Through all of this, Dan studied psychology and counseling.
When he retired from the Navy in the late 1970s, he became a psychotherapist. He moved to Laguna Beach, California, and took over the counseling practice established by Bob and Jeanette Renouf when they went to Nicaragua. His work there was especially with recovering alcoholics. During the summers, Dan often studied at the Jung Institute in Zurich, stopping to visit with Bob and Jeanette now in London. When the Renoufs moved to Tucson in 1992, Dan came also. They worked at La Casita and built a counseling practice together.
As a young man, before going into the Navy, Dan had considered becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He attended high school at the Carmelite Seminary in Oklahoma, but ultimately decided that particular life was not for him. Around 1980, Dan became an Episcopalian and was very active in his congregation of St. Wilfred's in Huntington Beach, California. He knew he was not called to be a priest, but still felt the ordained ministry was calling to him. The Diaconate seemed to fit the bill, and eventually he moved forward on that lifelong call. He was sponsored by St. Philip's, and was ordained as a deacon five years ago.
As a therapist, Dan's focus had been on emotional healing. As a deacon, it was a natural step to focus on ministry to the substance abuse community both at St. Philip's and in the wider Tucson community. As such, he led many workshops and wrote articles in various professional journals. He spearheaded a Twelve-Step Eucharist for the Tucson community at St. Philip's.
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, July 21, at 11 a.m. at St. Philip's. A reception will follow in the Murphey Gallery.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Last night’s dream:
I drive the 4Runner to a car wash, but the 4Runner has been so extremely modified, the car wash, made for conventional autos, cannot wash it. I cannot even reach the carwash controls to start the carwash. I look at the 4Runner. I have converted it to a boat with a white hull and blue trim. The car wash attendant opens the doors at the far end of the carwash so I can drive through and exit. I drive in, stop to visit with the car wash attendant. I get out and check the outboard boat motor. The car wash fills up with water. There is a motor, or something useful on the floor of the car wash, and outside, around the building, more useful equipment for my boat.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Dad learned a bit of Turkish in the early 60's when he was stationed in Izmir. Twenty some odd years later, he was building a geothermal power plant in the southern California desert. Most all of the laborers on the project were Hispanic, so Dad bought some "Learn to Speak Spanish" cassettes that he listened to commuting to and from work. My sister and I studied Spanish in junior high and high school and we would roll our eyes at Dad's terrible accent.
One day they were pouring concrete foundations at the job site and the workmen were doing something too fast so Dad accessed his foreign language memories and told the workment to "slow down" in Spanish. Everyone looked at Dad in confusion, so he thought about what he was saying and realized he was speaking in Turkish. (I had a similar experience in Thailand. I spoke to our waiter in Thai and then accidentally switched to Spanish.)
A few years ago we visited Turkey. The first day, we somehow missed our bus, so we jumped in a taxicab. Dad was in the front seat with the driver. Mom and I were in the back seat with a little old lady from our tour group that had also missed the bus. Our driver spoke very little English. I was rummaging through my tour documents, thinking I could show the driver where we wanted to go, and Dad said "blablubblablubub."
And the taxi driver said "Blahblububblahbub."
And Dad said "blublablubbaba."
And the driver took off. It was a 15 minute trip and Dad and the driver conversed the whole way. I'm sure at some point I turned to my mother and told her how impressed I was with Dad's Turkish, especially given that it had been 40 years since he had used it.
We arrived safely at our destination.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
"For the essence of time is flux, dissolution of the momentarily existent; and the essence of life is time." - Joseph Campbell
Word came today that Dr. B has entered hospice.
Years ago, I tried to express my gratitude to Dr. B for all that he had done for me. He conjured up the image of a long line of people, with me standing in the front, and he in the number two spot. He said that what he had done for me, number three had done for him, and number four had done for number three, and so on, stretching back to time immemorial. He told me that the way to express my gratitude to him was to turn around and give my gift to the next person in front of me. I will be dwelling on this challenge in the coming days.
Dr. B initiated me into life. He was my Virgil that accompanied me on my descent into grief. When I was afraid, he was my Buddha signaling the Abhaya Mudrā. When I discovered that joy hurt as much as grief, he was my patient Bodhisattva, smiling knowingly.
I've been preparing myself for years for this inevitability. There will be grief, of course. I love Dr. B. I am terribly attached. But the coming experience is much bigger than grief, bigger than Dr. B and me. The coming tsunami is grief and joy and awe of our tragic, comic human condition and gratitude and respect to Dr. B for opening my heart to the experience of life.
Friday, May 27, 2011
There is a lot of history that makes the news of Lew's accident at Box even more upsetting. I wrote the following accident report 13 years ago:
On Sunday, March 1, 1998, several Tucson area paraglider pilots gathered at Box Canyon for an evening flight. The gathering included pilots Fred Leonard, Lew Smith, Red Walsh, Ian Stine, Ed Hileman, Buddy Crill, Scott Horton, Leigh Anne Gallagher, Arjan Ala, Kep Taiz, and Larry Mayer. Larry's wife Rose offered her services as chauffer.
Box Canyon is a horseshoe of ridges with the open end facing west. The inside, north-facing ridge of the south leg of the horseshoe is very steep and rocky and is consistently soarable in a north or northwest wind. There is a landing zone (LZ) at the mouth of the horseshoe where most pilots park their cars.
Several pilots hoofed the one and a half hour hike from the LZ up to launch with their paragliders. Several others four wheeled the washed out dirt roads to the bowl of the horseshoe and lugged their equipment up the 30-minute trail to launch. Rose stayed with the vehicle in the bowl of the horseshoe. She had a cellular phone and a modified two-meter FM radio.
Most pilots arrived at launch between four and five PM. Conditions were ideal for the recreational pilots. The wind direction was due north and the velocity was sufficient to ridge soar, but not so strong as to make for complicated or difficult launching. The gust factor was minimal.
Fred was the first pilot off and he enjoyed a 30-minute ridge soaring flight all by himself as the rest of the pilots were setting up. About the time Buddy launched, Fred headed to the LZ and landed. Scott and Arjan followed next, and the ridge slowly started to fill up. Before too long Ian, Kep, and Red were in the air. Conditions were smooth and ideal and everyone was anticipating a bird's eye view of a spectacular Arizona sunset.
At this point one pilot was in the LZ, six pilots were in the air, four pilots were on launch, and Rose was with the vehicle behind launch. The lift was not abundantly strong but it was certainly not necessary to scratch. However, most pilots were working the strongest areas of lift and traffic in those areas was a bit congested. Several of the pilots commented at the end of the day that they were intimidated by the traffic they observed in those areas and were uncomfortable with the prospect of flying in that situation.
Then the accident happened.
At approximately 5:30 PM, Red was ridge soaring his Edel Super Space in a westerly direction at a higher altitude (maybe 100 feet) than Arjan, who was ridge soaring a Nova Axon in an easterly direction. Red was flying into the sun, but none of the other pilots recall glare being a problem. As the two pilots approached each other, Red encountered sink and his altitude advantage over Arjan was diminishing.
Red initiated a right-hand turn away from the ridge, which Ian suspects was in an attempt to avoid Arjan. At the same time, Arjan initiated an aggressive left hand turn away from the ridge. Ian believes that Arjan was starting a 180-degree turn to head back west down the ridge. Ian also believes that Arjan's attention was focused to the north, the direction he was turning towards, and that he was unaware of Red's proximity.
Red must have observed Arjan's heading change and foreseen a collision because Ian saw Red abandon the right hand turn away from the ridge and initiate a left hand turn back into the ridge. Time and distance between the two were very short.
As the new trajectories manifested themselves, Red found that he and Arjan's canopy were going to try and occupy the same space at the same time. Red screamed. In a last ditch effort to avoid collision, Ian saw Red reach up and grab the top of his risers and pull his body up, rolling his feet up over his head as though he was going to do a back flip, trying to get his body out of the way of Arjan's canopy.
Red's body and Arjan's canopy collided. Ian says that Red's body went right into Arjan's leading edge. Arjan's canopy wrapped around Red's body and lost all semblance of an airfoil. Scott remembers seeing Arjan's canopy, a brilliant wadded purple ribbon, horizontally laid across the backdrop of the brown and green ridge. Red's canopy also became distorted. The two pilots and their canopies plummeted at a shocking velocity.
Arjan was roughly 50 feet over the summit of the ridge when the collision occurred. He impacted the ridge approximately 150 feet east of launch and 40 or 50 feet below the summit. Red impacted the ridge 20 feet above Arjan. The area of impact was rocky with sparsely scattered scrubby bushes.
Arjan was wearing a very lightweight plastic helmet that resembled a kayaking helmet. Arjan's harness did not have a spine protector. Red wore a solid, probably fiberglass, Bell style helmet and his harness was equipped with a spine protector.
The four pilots on launch ran to the victims. Arjan was found unconscious on his back, bleeding from the nose, his shoulders propped up by a scrubby bush, his legs crossed at the ankles, and his head sagging to the side in an unnatural way. Red was found on his side, lucid, complaining of lower back pain and loss of feeling in one leg.
Red appeared to be stable. Arjan however was completely unresponsive. He appeared to be breathing although respiration was spastic and jerky. Spine and neck injury seemed apparent, so the four rescuers left Arjan where he lay.
At this point the two heroes of the day emerged. Lew Smith did an outstanding job of taking charge and directing the rescue team and Rose back at the vehicle called 911 on the cellular phone and coordinated with the authorities. Lew directed Rose to get two MediVac helicopters in route and even had radio frequencies, GPS coordinates, road names, and quadrangle map numbers for Rose to relay to the authorities.
Leigh Anne was monitoring Arjan and noticed that he had stopped breathing. Lew radioed to Rose to get a doctor on the line to ask if they should move Arjan to begin CPR, even though back injury seemed evident. Scott radioed to Lew that if breathing had stopped, mouth-to-mouth must be started. Lew, Leigh Anne, and Larry moved Arjan as gently as possible and began CPR. Scott top landed and joined the CPR efforts.
CPR was administered for what felt like hours, although the helicopters and paramedics arrived in probably under a half an hour. Ed was in communication with the helicopter pilots via radio and vectored them in for backside hill top landings.
The paramedics connected an EKG to Arjan while CPR continued. When they were ready, the EMTs directed "Stop CPR!" The EMTs found no electrical activity from Arjan's heart and explained that there was nothing they could do. "Your friend is gone."
Everyone was overcome with emotion and sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes but regrouped quickly because Red had to be loaded on a spine board and carried to the helicopter. Red had apparent spinal injury and the process of removing his harness and rolling him onto the spine board took a long time. By the time he was loaded and the helicopter left, the spectacular Arizona sunset had come and gone, and the five pilots remaining on launch were tired, cold, and emotionally drained.
Arjan's body was loaded on the second helicopter in the dark and the five pilots began the hike down with their paragliders on their backs.
Everyone regrouped in the LZ, shared their observations, and agreed to meet at the hospital that Red was taken to.
Arjan's father was contacted and informed of the tragedy.
The Pima County Sheriff's department interviewed everyone at the hospital and seemed to have a reasonable understanding of what had happened, although their press releases indicated it was a hang gliding accident.
Red did in fact have a spinal injury and had back surgery Monday afternoon, March 2, 1998. The doctors seem to think Red will have a near full recovery after extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
A bit of background for the first dream: I used to work with an engineer that I’ll call Bob for this story. I rarely communicate with Bob anymore. Also, I have a ridiculous 4x4 truck project, El Borrego Cimarrón (the Mountain Goat), that is nearing completion.
The first dream: Borrego Cimmarón is finished and in my mechanic’s garage. Bob has put dozens of antenna, like Ham radio or CB antenna, all over the roof of the vehicle. It looks like a porcupine. I wonder why on earth did Bob put all these communication antenna on my truck. I inspect the mounting of one of the antenna and it is half-assed. I hear the phone ring.
I wake up, the phone rings again. I jump out of bed and answer the phone. It’s Bob.
So what’s remarkable about this dream is that while Bob, in Tucson, was directed to communicate with me by his employer, and he went about looking and asking for my contact information, I was dreaming about Bob putting communication antennas on my truck. Woo Woo. Makes me think that Jung’s Collective Unconscious is a real phenomenon, not just a metaphor.
Background for dream number two: My bliss would be to live on a sailboat in the south Pacific making Jacques Cousteau style documentaries for the BBC, yet I’ve spent my adult life pursuing the much more pragmatic and secure career of an electrical engineer.
Dream number two: I am asleep on an inflatable floating mattress in the water. I am covered by another inflatable mattress stacked on top of me. I am vaguely aware that a boat is passing nearby, presumably to check out the floating mattress. Annoyed, I choose to remain asleep. I think it occurred to me that I was naked as well, so staying under the floating mattress kept my nakedness concealed. The boat passed by again, very close. Suddenly the mattress was under tow. I sat up and surveyed the situation. My floating mattress is tied to my sailboat. My sailboat had been at anchor off shore. Apparently while I was asleep, my sailboat had broken free of its anchor and slowly drifted toward shore. The boat that had passed by me twice had lashed on to my sailboat and was towing it away from shore – in effect saving my boat. I jumped onto my sailboat and waved “thank you” to the other boat and indicated that I wanted them to tow me out to my anchor. But as my sailboat arrived at my anchor, I realized that my anchor was still on the bottom and I was alone on my boat. I contemplated my options:
1. Let my sailboat drift, abandoned, while I snorkeled to the bottom to try and recover my anchor. If I recovered the anchor quickly, I could re-anchor my boat in the same spot. If I could not find the anchor quickly, my abandoned boat could drift back into shore and be damaged.
2. Sail away. I was anchorless.
Surprisingly, it took me a while to get this dream. It seems so obvious now, but it needed to percolate in me for half a day. To summarize metaphorically; I’ve had a sailboat (vehicle to my bliss) for a long time, but I anchored it and went to sleep. In the not too distant past, my sailboat broke free of its anchor (This was probably when I left my corporate job to join ProConn), but I continued to sleep. Sleepy me and my sailboat were about to run aground, to become stuck and damaged, but someone (my boss, the entrepreneur) towed me back out into deeper water. And now I am anchorless and I have to figure out whether to try and recover my old anchor, re-anchor myself in the same place, anchor someplace else, sail away without an anchor, … I am awake, I already have a sailboat, I’ve not run aground, I’m in safe depths, and I am anchorless.
This was a good dream.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
A Lesson in Humility
The summer of 1996, I happened to be in pretty good shape and I decided I wanted to do the La Jolla Rough Water Swim, a three mile open water race that starts, surprisingly, in La Jolla cove. Leigh Anne and I got some cheap tickets to San Diego on Southwest, packed our paragliders, swimsuits, and sun block and headed off to SoCal. Our buddy Evan, flight handle "Hollywood," and his honey of a girlfriend, Susan, picked us up at the San Diego airport with two HGs strapped on top. The four of us spent Friday night having fun in La Jolla. Saturday was dedicated to flying Torrey Pines.
We showed up at Torrey late in the AM and found very light conditions, but at least it was blowing in. It was so light in fact, that we were the only pilots there. At that time, Bill Bennett, a legendary little Australian pilot, was running the flight park. Hollywood and I, being well versed in HG lore, tried to visit with Bill and impress him with our dazzling fabulousness (we are HG pilots you know), but Bill was only interested in Leigh Anne and Susan. The lascivious little bastard was outright coming on to the two of them and, to the amazement and disbelief of Hollywood and I, the girls were totally sucking it up. I must say, Bill was quite the witty charmer and it really was hilarious to see him getting into his groove. Giddy with excitement, tongue hanging out, hips starting to gyrate, Rico Suave Bennett had totally captivated the girls. As Hollywood and I walked over to the cliff to check out conditions, Bill started telling the girls about all the "nekkid preverts" down bellow at Blacks Beach.
Evan started setting up a HG and I got out my PG. Conditions were light, so we were in no hurry. Leigh Anne came out with her PG and set up. Before I was hooked in, Leigh Anne was kiting her canopy over head. She turned and started for the cliff. The wind must have picked up a bit because she was having trouble walking over to launch. Bill, off watering the grass (looking very much like Carl the groundskeeper), saw Leigh Anne in action and dropped his hose and came running. Leigh Anne had taken only a few steps when Bill came up from behind her to give her a push to launch. Only Leigh Anne and Bill know what groping went on, but Leigh Anne did successfully launch and proceed to float out above Blacks Beach. I quickly joined her and we chased each other up and down the ridge for several hours. Conditions remained light and no one else launched. Imagine, two paragliders with all of Torrey to themselves. It was awesome.
At one point, conditions got really light. Leigh Anne sank out to Blacks Beach and I very nearly did as well. Just as I was about to give up, the wind picked up and I was soon well above the ridge. Poor Leigh Anne would have to hike back up and I was enjoying the best conditions of the day. As I flew over the ridge, I watched Leigh Anne pack up her glider and start up the trail. I noticed two young men near the trail, kind of off in the bushes. It looked like they had their pants down around their ankles. What the hell? A two-man circle jerk is what it was. Well, Leigh Anne was going to have quite a hike.
I had the whole ridge to myself and glassy smooth lift. It was magic. I stretched out on my back and closed my eyes. I flew back to launch and did touch and goes. I got way high and did super steep wingovers. I flew for a long time and enjoyed myself immensely.
The afternoon wore on and I figured it was probably time to go land. Leigh Anne would surely be back at launch and everyone would be hungry by now. I did a couple of flybys over launch and sure enough, Leigh Anne, Susan, Hollywood, Bill, and about 20 spectators were all hanging out watching me float around. My vision is not that great, but I was pretty sure that a large percentage of the crowd of spectators were big breasted, attractive young women, probably coed honeys from the UCSD campus. And they were all digging me. Air Stud. I couldn't help myself. I did some more wingovers. Oh yeah baby. I was feeling froggy. Time to go land. A little movie played in my head - The bikini clad coeds were all around me, jumping up and down with excitement. They all wanted me to come back to their sorority and get in the hot tub. This would be no ordinary landing.
I flew down the ridge. When I got to the launch area, I turned 90 degrees so I was flying straight down wind, over the grassy set up area. At just the right moment, I was going to go deep into the right brake, crank the wing up on the right wing tip, practically do a wingover a few feet off the ground turning the canopy 180 degrees back into the wind, and swing out of the steep turn into a super styley landing. I watched the ground coming up. It's all in the timing. You got to have the feel baby. Right about NOW!
I stuffed the right brake, felt the canopy limp, and knew immediately that I was screwed. I thought to myself, "Should I try and run this out or just take my..."
BAAAAM! My feet hit the grass. There was nothing to do but relax and let it happen.
OOMPH! My face in the grass.
WHOP! I'm on my back.
My body did about three gyrations. The lines of my paraglider wrapped around me with each somersault. Finally, everything came to a stop. I heard the canopy rustling, settling over my smoldering, Wile E. Coyote body. Then, through the silence, applause. And laughter. Ah yes. That would be Leigh Anne's laughter. And that would be Hollywood's. Oh, and listen to that. Bill Bennett enjoyed the show. What could I do?
I stood up. Took a bow. Turned red. Laughed at myself. Waved to the spectators. Bill gave me a ration of good humored abused and fussed about the rut I had dug through the grass with my body. Then he said something that Leigh Anne will never ever let me forget. He said, "When you guys showed up to fly, I was worried about the little lady (Leigh Anne) screwing up but it looks like you're the one I should have been worried about." It sounds kind of harsh now, but it was actually quite funny when he said it.
The rest of the trip was fun. Leigh Anne, Susan, and Hollywood laughed at my expense, I swam in the race on Sunday morning and did quite well. We went back to Torrey Sunday afternoon, but conditions were too good and the sky was filled with traffic. The moral of this story is something my dear friend Ken DeRussy (who taught me how to fly HGs and PGs) once told me on the training hill; "When you're feeling froggy, chances are you're about to get smacked."
Sunday, April 10, 2011
My new kitchen:
Maple flooring, maple fan blades in the living room:
Dining room with bachelor furniture:
Bay windows and the entrance foyer:
Guest bedroom, also the dog's nap room:
The upstairs bath that was ugly pink:
Thursday, March 31, 2011
The Great Basin is a lovely place. It’s too bad there are so many rednecks stinking the place up. On the way home, we stopped to pee and I noticed some redneck’s proud display of his recent destruction.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
• 1979 National Merit Scholar
• American Field Service exchange student to New Zealand
• BA in Asian Studies, UC Berkeley
• Taught English in Taiwan for years
• Spoke fluent Chinese
• MS Anthropology, University of Arizona
• Traveled to the most remote parts of the People's Republic of China
• Studied tree rings in the Tien Shan mountains of China
• Ph.D. course work in archaeology, University of Arizona
• Participated in many archaeology digs in Israel, France and around the US
• Explored the Peruvian Andes
• Worked on fishing vessels in the Bering Sea
• Worked for the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) planning transportation improvements in southern Arizona
• Flew hang gliders and paragliders in New Zealand, Arizona and California
• Former president of the Southern Arizona Hang Gliding Association
Chaz froze to death two weeks ago, age 49, drunk and homeless in Seattle.
I am trying to be happy for Chaz, now that he is liberated from his pain, but it breaks my heart that pain killed such a spirit.
Chaz’s family requests donations in his memory be sent to http://www.compasshousingalliance.org/
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Remember: From dust you came, to dust you shall return.
Heavy stuff. A clear thinking, insightful friend observed that being reminded of our impermanence is depressing, but Lent has the opposite effect on me. I am filled with wonder and awe when I contemplate that I am made of star dust that was made from nuclear fusion of hydrogen that came from the big bang that came from ???
A deeply spiritual agnostic's explanation.
Comet Lulin from my backyard in Tucson, February 2009.
It all comes down to one's ego attachment. If you ask people, “Who are you?” the answer inevitably comes from their ego: “I’m a successful electrical engineer with a beautiful house and truck and girlfriend …” The ego self is the source of much suffering.
Lent is a call to transcend the ego and recognize the self’s role in the big process:
From an indefinable void, empty but full of potential, comes the big bang, a singularity, one unified undifferentiated thing, that expands and differentiates into individual forms – space, time, matter, energy, life, consciousness.
My self, your self, our enemy’s self; we are transient forms that have emerged from star dust, the big bang, the indefinable void, and we will collapse back into that beautiful process and be recycled into other, perhaps more evolved, forms. Authentic religion calls the beautiful process “God.” Lent is about putting one's self right with God. Am I living ego-centric, fearful and anxious of God? Or do I live with “the strength and courage to love and serve you [God] with gladness and singleness of heart?” Am I embracing my role in the beautiful process?
At least, that is the meaning I choose to assign to Lent. I have little use for the guilt/shame/repentance-for-sin Lenten preoccupations of most of Christendom.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Saturday, March 05, 2011
The Ancient Tree by Thich Nhat Hanh
Deep in the forest highlands stood a great, ancient tree. No one knew how many thousands of years it had lived. Its trunk was as large as the armspans of eighteen people. Its great roots pushed up through the ground and spread to a radius of fifty meters. Its bark was as hard as rock; if you pressed a fingernail against it, it would hurt your finger. Its branches held tens of thousands of birds' nests, sheltering hundreds of thousands of birds, large and small. The earth beneath the shadow of the tree was unusually cool.
In the morning when the sun rose, the first rays of light were like a conductor's baton, beginning a grand symphony, the voices of the birds as majestic as any great philharmonic orchestra. All the creatures of the forest arose, on two feet or four, slowly and in awe.
In the great tree there was an opening as large as a grapefruit from Bien Hoa. It was twelve meters up from the ground. In that opening lay a small brown egg. No one could say if a bird had brought that egg there or if it had been formed by the sacred air of the forest and the life energy of the great tree.
Thirty years passed and the egg remained intact. During some nights, birds would be startled from their sleep by a brilliant light shining from the opening in the tree, illuminating an entire corner of the forest. Finally one night, under a very bright full moon and a brilliantly starlit sky, the egg cracked open and a tiny strange bird was born.
The little bird gave a small chirp in the cold night, and it continued to cry throughout the night until the sun appeared-- a cry neither tragic nor bold, a cry of strangeness and surprise. It cried until the first rays of light opened the morning symphony and thousands of birds' voices broke forth. From that moment on, the little bird cried no more.
The bird grew quickly. The nuts and grains that mother birds brought to the opening in the tree were always plenty. Soon the opening became too small, and the bird had to find another home, much larger. It had taught itself to fly, and it gathered sticks and straw to build a new nest. Although the egg had been brown, the bird was as white as snow. Its wingspan was vast, and it always flew slowly and very quietly, often to faraway places where white waterfalls tumbled day and night like the majestic breath of earth and sky. Sometimes it did not return for several days. When it returned, it lay in its nest all day and night, thoughtfully and quietly. Its two bright eyes never lost their look of surprise.
In the ancient Dai Lao Forest, a hermit's hut stood on the slope of a hill. There, a monk had lived for almost fifty years. The bird often flew across Dai Lao Forest, and from time to time it saw the monk walking slowly down the path to the spring, holding a water jug in his hand. One day, the bird saw two monks walking together on the path leading from the spring to the hut, and that night, concealed in the branches of a tree, it watched as the light of the fire flickered inside the hut and the two monks conversed the whole night long.
The bird flew high over the ancient forest, sometimes for days without landing. Below stood the great tree, and the creatures of mountain and forest concealed by grass, bushes, and trees. Since the day the bird overheard the exchange between the two monks, its bewilderment grew. Where have I come from and where will I go? How many thousands of years will the great tree stand?
The bird had heard the two monks speak about time. What is time? Why has time brought us here, and why will it take us away? The nut that a bird eats has its own delicious nature. How can I find out the nature of time? The bird wanted to pick up a small piece of time and lie quietly with it in its nest for several days to examine its nature. Even if it took months or years to examine, the bird was willing.
High over the ancient forest, the bird felt like a round balloon drifting in nothingness. It felt its nature was as empty as a balloon's, and that emptiness was the ground of its existence and the cause of its suffering as well. If I could find time, thought the bird, I could certainly find myself.
After many days and nights of flying and contemplating, the bird came quietly to rest in its nest. It had brought with it a tiny piece of earth from the Dai Lao Forest. Deep in thought, it picked up the piece of earth to examine it. The monk from the Dai Lao Forest had said to his friend, "Time is stilled in eternity, where love and your beloved are one. Each blade of grass, each piece of earth, each leaf, is one with that love."
But the bird was unable to find time. The clod of earth from Dai Lao Forest revealed nothing. Perhaps the monk had lied. Time lies in love, but where is love? The bird remembered the waterfalls endlessly tumbling in the Northwest Forest. It remembered the days it listened to the sounds of waterfalls from morn to eve. It even imagined itself tumbling like a waterfall, while it played with the light sparkling on the water and caressed the pebbles and rocks down below. The bird felt that it was a waterfall itself, with endless water falling from it.
One noon, while flying across the Dai Lao Forest, the bird saw that the hut was no longer there. The whole forest had burned, and only a pile of ashes remained where the hut had been. In a panic, the bird flew around searching. The monk was no longer in the forest. Where had he gone? Corpses of animals. Corpses of birds. Had the fire consumed the monk? The bird was bewildered. Time, what are you? Why do you bring us here, and why will you take us away? The monk had said, "Time is stilled in eternity." If that is so, perhaps love has returned the monk to itself.
The bird flew swiftly back to the ancient forest, where anguished cries of many birds and explosions of bark revealed that the ancient forest was burning. Faster, faster still, the bird flew. The fire spread throughout the sky, and it spread near the great tree. Hundreds of thousands of birds shrieked in fright. As the fire approached the great tree, the bird flapped its wings feverishly, hoping to put it out, but the fire burned even more fiercely. The bird sped to the spring, dipped its wings in the water, and rushed back to shake the water over the forest. The drops just turned to steam. It was not enough, not enough. The bird's whole body soaked in water was not enough to extinguish the fire.
Hundreds of thousands of birds cried. Young birds without feathers to fly screamed. Then the fire began to burn the great tree. Why was there no rain? Why didn't the downpour that fell endlessly in the Northwest Forest flow like a waterfall here? The bird let forth a piercing cry, a cry both tragic and passionate, and suddenly the cry was transformed into the sound of a rushing waterfall. In that moment, the bird felt the fullness of its existence. Loneliness and emptiness vanished, and the image of the monk, the image of the sun behind the mountain peak, and the image of the rushing water falling endlessly through a thousand lifetimes took their place. The cry of the bird had become the rush of the waterfall, and without fear, the bird plunged into the forest fire like a majestic waterfall.
The next morning was calm. The rays of the sun shone, but there was no symphony, no sounds of thousands of birds. Parts of the forest had burned completely. The great tree stood, but more than half its branches were charred. Corpses of large and small birds were everywhere. The forest was silent.
The birds who were still alive called one another, their voices betraying their bewilderment. By what grace had the clear sky suddenly poured forth rain, extinguishing the fire? They remembered seeing the great white bird shaking water from its two wings. They looked everywhere throughout the forest, but they could not find the white bird. Perhaps it had flown away to live in a different forest. Perhaps it had been killed by the fire. The great tree, its body charred and scarred with wounds, did not say a word. The birds turned their heads to the sky, and then began to build new nests in the remaining branches of the great tree. Did the ancient tree miss the child, the child of sacred mountain air and the life energy of its own four thousand years? Dear bird, where have you gone? Listen to the monk: time has returned the bird to the love that is the source of all things.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The Catalinas are big mountains north of Tucson. Hang glider and paraglider pilots have been flying them for decades, but it is an all day commitment. Ross pioneered a hike-up site off the Sutherland Trail. We played hookey today to go check it out. It has a lot of potential, but it is for advanced pilots only.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Home Improvement 22.43%
Hair cut 0.08%
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Occasionally I get to mix work and pleasure. Photography is a hobby. Engineering is work. We needed to record the nameplate data on a CT that was in service. The bare conductors that connect to the CT have 13,800 volts between them, so approaching the CT was problematic. Gary and I rigged up a means to photograph the CT nameplate from the ground with an insulated telescoping fiberglass pole. It worked beautifully and got me thinking of pole mounted photography and videography possibilities.
Friday, January 21, 2011
A few weeks later, I woke up alone in a Waikiki hotel and thought, “What have I done?” Thinking back, I have to laugh at myself. My perception of the risk I was taking was so inflated and my denial of my fear was so unconscious.
But before I arrived in Hawaii, I took a wonderful bunch of teenagers to San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico and for a week, we helped build a very modest house for a very poor woman.
The kids and I were slogging away at our manual labor in the oppressive heat and humidity and this big gringo showed up in a beat up van. He called himself an electrician and said he was a friend of the home owner. He brought tools out of his van and started helping us. I was suspicious at first – I had a bunch of teenagers I was responsible for - but after a few days of working together, I concluded that he was an honest, genuine, sincere fellow. He was plenty bright, had a good Spanish vocabulary (though his accent was atrocious), and he seemed to have some perspective, as though he had learned from his life experiences.
I asked him to tell me his story.
He used to live in L.A. He was a machinist in the aero-space industry. He made a ton of money. He had a wife, big house, new cars, … all that stuff. He had a daughter. Though he made plenty of money, they never had enough. His wife was miserable, resentful and bitter. His daughter became a drug addict and lived on the street, turning tricks to pay for her habit. Work was stressful, everything was always a crisis, projects were chronically over-budget and behind schedule.
One day, he found out that his drug-addicted, homeless, prostitute daughter had given birth to a child. He tried to locate the child. He wanted to adopt it, but the State of California had taken possession of the child and, for whatever reason, would not consider giving the child to him. He went back to his life, but knowledge of his grandchild had changed him. He imagined his innocent, vulnerable grandchild adrift in a cruel, ugly world. Whatever feelings he had before – anger, defensiveness – changed into sadness and grief.
From his new perspective of grief, his life became tragic, and one day, he walked away. He divorced his wife and gave her everything – the money, the house, the cars, the debt – and he drove an old 1970’s van south to Mexico where he licked his soul wounds. He scratched out a living as an electrician, barely making enough money to eat beans and tortillas and put gas in his van. He found community with the very poor. He married a Mexican woman.
Somehow he got word that his daughter was pregnant again. He returned to L.A., found his daughter on the street, and took care of her until the birth of his second grandchild. He arranged for his daughter to be sterilized during the delivery and obtained custody of his granddaughter. He took his granddaughter back to Mexico and he and his Mexican wife are raising the child as their own.
At the end of his story, he told me, “We’re dirt poor. We barely survive. But we are happy and life is beautiful. I wouldn’t go back to my old life for anything.”
Monday, January 17, 2011
A few days earlier, I read an editorial by a very fearful Ted Nugent - Be Prepared for Evil.
I've been reading Warren Buffet's biography The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder. Buffet's father was a US Senator from Nebraska. You could take his rhetoric, his fears and anxieties, his paranoia, from his era - Great Depression, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower - and drop it into a contemporary Fox News broadcast and have no idea that you were listening to rational logic that was 70 years old. It is identical to the rhetoric, fears, anxieties of Glenn Beck et. al.
"Fear not" said the Buddha.
The evangelical Christian don't know what to do with Matthew 6:25-34.
I am weary of fear and fearful people.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
There is a beautiful 80 foot waterfall in the jungle of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. After a good rain, when the stream is running hard, Jane Goodall’s famous chimpanzees make pilgrimages to the waterfall and perform magnificent, ritual displays. As they approach the waterfall and hear the water crashing down on the rocks, their hair bristles, indicating excitement. They stand upright and rhythmically sway left and right. “They pick up and throw great rocks and branches. They leap to seize the hanging vines, and swing out over the stream in the spray-drenched wind …”2 After the display, they sit meditatively on streamside rocks and watch the water flow by.
Years ago, my friend Glenn blew a launch at Miller Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona. For a hang glider to fly, for it to create lift, it needs a certain amount of wind flowing over the wing. If there is not adequate wind, or if the wind is not laminar over the surface of the wing, the wing is “stalled” and it basically falls out of the sky. Glenn ran off the side of a cliff with his wing stalled, so instead of flying away into the canyon, he fell and hit the cliff until his wing lodged on some scrubby desert bushes on a small ledge. Glenn died from the trauma of impact. Search and Rescue recovered his body, but they left his hang glider on the side of the cliff. The glider was impaled on the trunks of the scrubby bushes and for those not familiar with the mechanics of a hang glider, disassembling a glider is not an intuitive process. The U.S. Forest Service manages this particular area of wilderness and they determined that our local hang gliding club was responsible for removing the glider.
I was the only club member that had climbing equipment and experience. The president of the club had a friend that was an experienced spelunker, so the following weekend, the two of us secured our ropes to anchors (automobiles) at launch and dropped over the cliff to recover the glider. It was June in southern Arizona, so it was hot, but I estimated it would only take us an hour or so to break down the glider and haul it up the cliff. We carried no water.
The wings of a hang glider are made from a super tough fabric, but we found that the gnarly branches of the scrubby bushes had impaled the wing so that lifting the wing off the branches was impossible. I had to cut the fabric around each impalement and cut the branches off below the wing. The ledge was tiny, only a few feet deep, so to fold the wings together we had to guy the nose of the glider out into empty space. The process took hours.
In the midst of the struggle, there was a moment, a mystical experience I shall never forget. My partner was standing on the inside of the ledge with his back against the cliff wall. I was on the outside of the ledge bent over at the waist struggling with the glider. My heels were hanging in the empty space of the canyon and my toes were pointed toward the cliff. We were both secured to ropes, so falling off the cliff was not a concern. It was hot. We were dehydrated. My back was quite fatigued from all the lifting and working bent over. As I struggled, a thermal rolled up the cliff. The hot, dry air blew across my sweaty body. I stood up erect and relished the relief of evaporative cooling. My back muscles relaxed. I gazed into the cliff at my partner standing there facing me and a giant yellow butterfly, with wings as big as my hands, hovered, fluttering above his head.
This was the experience: My mind was empty – there were no words, no thoughts. On some unconscious, emotional level, there was a background of grief for the loss of my friend. There were the sensations of muscular fatigue and relief in my lower back; the sun burning the skin on my arms and legs and the back of my neck; the coolness of my sweat evaporating in the hot, dry wind; thirst and the parched mouth of dehydration. There was the vision of a giant yellow butterfly fluttering above my partner’s head. Time slowed and I watched in a quiet, peaceful calm. After hovering for a moment, the butterfly departed my partner’s head and flew straight toward me. I continued to look straight ahead at my partner. I didn’t need to follow the butterfly’s path because I intuitively gnew (as in gnosis) that it was coming to hover over my head. The butterfly exited the top of my peripheral vision and as it paused over my head, there came a perfect, eternal moment of blessing, of union, of unity, of peace. I could only describe the experience metaphorically, but in the moment, there was no need to describe, to use words, to think, because everything in the universe was exactly as it was supposed to be, and there was nothing to say or even think.
My partner noticed the butterfly and said, “Hey! There’s a butterfly over your head! Glenn has come to say goodbye!” As his words penetrated my ears and my consciousness, my grace-full moment of enlightenment collapsed. I fell out of heaven. My consciousness moved from my right brain into my left brain and the first words my left brain assembled into a thought were, “You idiot! Why did you have to open your mouth?”
Of all the hours I have spent meditating, one sit in particular was quite remarkable. I was living in Honolulu at the time, practicing zazen at the Palolo Zen Center. One afternoon, I went for a solo 2.4 mile swim in the Pacific Ocean in front of Waikiki and then went to the evening sit at the zendo. Sometimes a 25 minute sit seems to drag on forever, but this particular evening, the 25 minute sits felt like 25 seconds. From the moment I sat down on my zafu, my mind was quiet, peaceful, empty. Everything in the universe, and my place in the universe, was exactly perfect. I was at once differentiated and undifferentiated from everything else. I was at once this little body sitting on this zafu and the turtles in the ocean and the boundless expanses of the universe. “Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”3 There were no thoughts, no words, not even images in my mind. Just a feeling of expansive calm.
A monk asked Chao-chou, “Has the dog Buddha nature or not?”
Chao-chou said, “Mu.”4
I sit in front of the Roshi. “Only Mu” I say.
“Only Mu in the whole universe” he replies. He looks straight into my eyes. “Show me” he commands.
There is a way of being that I have glimpsed. It is pre-verbal. It might be full of sensual and emotional experiences, but those experiences are not explained or described, they are simply felt. It is characterized by feelings of calm regarding the current state of affairs and one’s role in the grand spectacle, feelings of inter-relatedness to everything, feelings of compassion for everything. The calm of this way of being is so pervasive that action in the world and life is spontaneous and uninhibited.
How do I show you that I am a chimp at the waterfall?
1 Jane Goodall interviewed on To the Best of Our Knowledge.
2 Reason For Hope, A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall
3 “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
4 The Gateless Barrier (Wu-Men Kuan) translated by Robert Aitken, Roshi