Mar 262014
 

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I have a friend who passed away last night. He’s been fading for weeks under hospice care, after two years of cancer and treatment, gradually losing mobility and some awareness, but never his sense of humor. I never went to visit him in the hospital, but he’s never been far from my awareness over the last few months. Here are a couple of photos to give you an idea of who this man was.

Dan led a full-contact life, a linebacker-poet if I ever met one. A conundrum, perhaps the most literate meth-addict/felon/recovery case I’ve ever met, with a lengthy police record and equally-long service record. He was widely known to the law enforcement agencies of several counties when I met him, ruling his rough block in Antioch with a baseball bat from his mother’s garage. He was always up for a fight, and his scarred mug and crooked teeth were frightening even before he glared or barked at you. Coaching him was like a gym workout with too much weight, I and others would come away from our interactions shaking. Yet he strove for self-awareness and self-mastery with great intention, and became more receptive with each month and year of consciousness work. After some months, helping him assemble a working computer in his garage one day, I became aware of how literate he was, how much he loved reading, which was a closely-guarded vulnerability. Over the years, I and others started to see his poetry, his heart, and his thoughtfulness more and more. Now I can honestly say, I love his writing, his body art, his crude directness, and his tenderness. We’ve created ritual together, coached consciousness workshops together, and supported each other in odd ways. I helped him with his computer problems, and he taught me how little there was to fear his big crude energy. He would poke at me in some way, then laugh. He was a guest in my home and a drinking buddy on more than one occasion. I miss him, even as I’m relieved that his suffering has ended.

Our common community rallied around Dan lovingly, creating ritual, sitting with him for weeks around the clock as he lost awareness, writing many emails a day with updates, commentary, feelings and requests for assistance. Oddly, there was little email as Nancy was in critical condition for 56 days, relatively few visited, and almost no discussion after she passed, while people traveled hundreds and even thousands of miles to see Dan. I wonder about what was different, even as I marvel at and delight in the outpouring of support he’s received. One big difference is that I wrote updates ever day for the 160 folks who wanted to know what was happening. Another is that we had to limit visitation towards the end, as she was exhausted by too much contact. I held Nancy’s hospitalization with some optimism, even though she was quadriplegic for the whole time. Dan, well, we’ve known this was serious for months, and I think the acceptance of the end of this incarnation for him is more evident. Nancy was also in an ICU, harder to visit, and I imagine it was harder to come see someone who could not talk, kept alive by a half-dozen machines.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the connection our community has had with them. Perhaps it’s the timing. Perhaps Nancy was the first one to go, and no one knew what to do, or how to be. Whatever, it’s a puzzle.

But I am having a reaction that has nothing to do with any of this. I’m weary of loss. It’s not just Dan, or Nancy.

I’ve been the guardian and trustee for my mother for more than six years, as she has faded away thanks to Alzheimer’s disease. She hasn’t recognized me in years, and I accept that. But others go away too. The cascade started in mid-February, when a man in the prime of his life died of the flu, shockingly right after his wedding. I have two good friends who knew him. February 24th, Mark Ketchum, a world-renown bridge architect and fellow BMW motorcyclist in Berkeley passed away after a year of cancer. Then within a few weeks, another close friend lost both his parents, and his partner lost her father. Jenifer lost a coworker suddenly last week. A member of the sangha is critically ill, and so is my next-door neighbor. Several people in my larger circle have been widowed, which strikes close to my heart indeed.

I don’t know where to go with this. I’m not depressed, I just feel weary and open, and perhaps a little numb.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m halfway through my preliminary buddhist practices, and studying some deeper Tibetan writings on “buddha nature” (Tathagatagharba Sutra) and the nature of emptiness, enlightenment and enlightened activity (Nagarjuna’s teachings). Every day begins with a reminder of how fragile our lives are, and this outer experience of loss, over and over, is perhaps cracking some layers of protection away. In the stillness something is forming, I don’t know what.

 Posted by at 8:18 pm
Feb 052014
 

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An era is coming to an end, my faithful steed Roy is going to a new owner. When Jen and I bought Mz. Parker last year, I knew it had to happen, and now it’s time. I’m just feeling the whole shift.

As usual with my posts, there is a story in the background. Nancy’s-brother’s-wife’s-father was a delightful man named Roy Kristensen, a guy born and raised and lived his whole life in Sonoma County. Roy was in his 70’s when I met him some ten years ago, and he worked part time doing small construction jobs and fixing things for folks, I suspect mostly because he loved it. In 2006, a friend of his decided to sell his full-size pickup truck, and Roy very happily bought it, this 1994 Ford F150 just as you see it here. As far as I can tell, it was his pride and joy. Then in 2007, Roy passed away quite suddenly from a stroke.

All of us were deeply impacted by the loss of Roy, a cheerful and engaging man, the kind of guy who always had a twinkle in his eye and a funny story to share. Very knowledgeable about Sonoma history and active in the community, he was born in Two Rock, and I would wager that no one who ever reads this blog will know someone else born there. Hell, most of us barely know where it is. Roy and I talked for hours about the train routes running through Marin and Sonoma, and in fact one of the main routes ran right across the front of my property, cutting through the hill and creating the steep slope that my house is built into. Everyone in the family loved this man, and I miss him still.

Some months after he passed, his family decided to sell this truck just at the time when Nancy and I needed a bigger truck for our house construction. So we bought it, and promptly named it Roy. Roy is a construction truck through and through, with a bed liner, camper shell and lumber rack. The motor is a very well-developed and proven design, a 300-cubic-inch straight six that is smooth and burns no oil after 224,000 miles. There are some dents and scratches, the front fender has been bent down a bit on the left side, but all three of us who have owned him have cared for him well, and the drivetrain and body are solid. No one ever dumped 3000 pounds of rocks into the bed, sagging the frame. No one ever skipped oil changes. It’s hard to find a 20-year-old truck that looks this good and works this well.

So it’s time to let him go, as I no longer need a full-sized truck. I’m contemplating the shift, looking at this as a dream through Jungian eyes. This is a change of vehicles. While building my house, and tending to Nancy and then myself after she was gone, I’ve needed a lot of capacity. Here it is, reflected back, a big sturdy reliable masculine vehicle that has carried cords of wood, a ton of custom-milled cedar siding, stacks of 4×8 plywood, a BMW M3 motor, every piece of furniture and every appliance that is in my home, all my mother’s belongings, forty tons of trash from the construction site of my house, concrete, tile, mortar, Jen’s furniture from her retreat space in Monte Rio…I can hardly remember all the wonderful loads of *stuff* that Roy has moved for me and for us, friends and family. Such capacity I have had, in his form.

I posted him for sale on Craigslist, shared the event on Facebook, and voilá, a friend from the past, an architect renovating a house, needs a construction truck. It’s so serendipitous, we are both startled and delighted. We’re meeting tomorrow, and I expect that she will take him into the next chapter of his life.

Adieu, Roy. But you will keep the tape measure that Nancy kept aboard you, and the fire extinguisher I kept aboard you. If you know about the Enneagram, and know that Nancy was a One and I am a Six, you will smile as you read this.

 Posted by at 8:23 pm
Feb 032014
 

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Exploring some of my Buddhist connections this evening, I delighted upon the Facebook page for the king of Bhutan, His Royal Highness Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk. And I immediately found out that one of the dzongs (‘fortress monasteries’) in Bhutan burned almost to the ground in 2012. I had no idea, even though I visited this place ten years ago. What a shock.

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This photo from 2004 shows me blissfully unaware that the site will be gone in eight years. I’m as connected to the internet as anyone, an avid reader of news and tracker of things financial and spiritual and political. I read The Economist, I read other news sources from Europe. And I missed this. If you don’t already know, Bhutan was historically rather feudal, with the country broken into (I think) seven regions each ruled by a dzong until peacefully united under the Wangchuks some 110 years ago. This is one of the most important and largest buildings in the country, and it’s mostly wiped out. A World Trade Center loss for Bhutan. How did I not hear of it?

Here is an image of a prayer ceremony carried out a few days ago, on the site. Just look at the ruins. (And admire how these delightful people bring ritual to heal a wound, and create the possibility of reconstruction!)

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It seems like third-world news is hard to find in our modern news streams. I certainly know this, it’s hard to find out details about massacres in Sudan, or Syria, or the latest clashes in Anwar Pradesh or the hinterlands of Pakistan. How many fields of poppies are planted in Afghanistan, how are the raw morphine sales funding the Taliban? What is really going on out there? What sources of news actually tell me things I want to know?

(And how much do I really want to know? We are culturally and historically evolved to live in villages, and until 150 years ago, mostly only knew of local events. I’m not sure it’s healthy to be aware of all the disastrous things happening every day all over the world. I really want to be selective, and receive a balance of positive and negative information.)

The Economist is a pretty good place to start. The writing is thoughtful, and topics are discussed with some depth and understanding and insight. It’s based in the UK, so the journalism is anything but sensational, and they tackle tough questions. Apparently CNN International is a good source too, on the strength of this single article about the fire. I’m going to start reading it more.

It’s ironic and telling that Facebook is actually quite a good news source, if you are selective in the pages you follow. King Wangchuk’s page is a wonderful find for me, as I love the country of Bhutan and want to keep current with events there. I get some information by following HH The Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, and Kalu Rinpoché on Facebook – but the news is generally much more specific about their activities, not so much about world events. Blogs by some of my acquaintances are very good; I read insightful commentary by Jane Brunette, Steve Stern and others. Then there is fun stuff like local blogger Alex Castle, Laura Silverman (who I mentioned a few weeks ago), Jessie Wood (Lama Palden’s daughter)…

I digress. Perhaps I’m saying that I like to find curated news sources, and they often slide into more personal commentary – which I enjoy – but does not inform in the way I seek. The Huffington Post had promise, but is now so bloated with opinionated and sensationalistic junk that it’s hard to find the gems.

Have you got recommendations? Please add a comment or shoot me a note if you have a source for national and/or international news with thoughtful, balanced commentary!

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Feb 012014
 
a pleasure of faith

I had a heart-opening, delightful and perfect moment this morning, one that I’m sure I will relish for a long time. I found the missing candle holder. On some level we all live amidst chaos, and I often feel like I have an extra dose of it because I am sorting through boxes and boxes [...]

 Posted by at 11:01 am
Jan 042014
 
beemer reclamation

I’ve got a not-so-secret secret…I have two motorcycles, not one. The black BMW R1100RSL has been my steady date for years, an utterly reliable bike that I’m commuting on several times a week now. She’s pretty modern, lots of power and rubber on the road, great suspension, and ABS brakes for those fun days when [...]

 Posted by at 1:23 pm
Dec 172013
 
many shades of grief

As I come up to the second anniversary of Nancy’s passing, I’ve become quite still inside. Last year, I was reliving the final two months of her life, a horrific journey through intensive care. I’m doing that again, but very differently now. I have a new life, am entering into partnership with Jen, and look [...]

 Posted by at 10:34 pm
Nov 282013
 
a different stillness

I’ve been on a little retreat this week, traveling through many kinds of desert with Jen. Death Valley, Nevada, western and southern Arizona, the Sonoran desert, and now southern California. This pic was on our walk near my sister’s home near Tucson, two days after some significant rain. The crackled dried mud in the wash [...]

 Posted by at 3:46 pm
Nov 222013
 
weapon reflection

One of the oddest conundrums in my life is my history with firearms. As a buddhist, I have vowed to not take life, and as a result, I have little use for rifles and shotguns. Yet I was a competitive target shooter through high school and college, spending one or two hours per day refining [...]

 Posted by at 11:31 pm
Oct 052013
 
miss powassan

I’ve been continuing to think about boats over the last few weeks, and it’s going to be a few years before I can seriously consider purchasing a big enough boat to live aboard. Many of you don’t know that I owned a 44’ wooden schooner for about 15 years (a classic boat nightmare, by the [...]

 Posted by at 1:10 pm
Sep 042013
 
the tibetan voice

It’s so good to know our internal voices. Today, I have had several conversations with my closest friends about impulses to make radical changes in our lives. Have you ever had that moment, when you feel like you have to change everything? That has apparently resurfaced in me today. I thought about buying a tugboat. [...]

 Posted by at 9:38 pm