Nov 032015


We inevitably lose our parents, and perhaps it is fortunate when we lose them before they lose us. My father-in-law lost his daughter, my wife, before he passed away, and I think it really crushed him. So there is a blessing and an initiation when our parents pass. Our grief can bring us into adult, mature and compassionate places that perhaps we never reach without it.

My mother passed away last week, peacefully sleeping for days under hospice care. Having lost my father and two stepfathers, she was my final parent. I’ve been her guardian for eight years, her primary caregiver for some of that time, always the one ultimately responsible for her well-being. Penny has thrived in her memory care unit for six years, held by a remarkably stable and loving group of women caregivers and nurses. It was Alzheimer’s. She stopped recognizing me more than four years ago, and has needed a wheelchair and hospital bed and two people to move her since 2013. She had not spoken in over a year, and rarely responded in any way, or even moved her eyes, when anyone spoke to her. I do not know how much of the woman who raised me and loved me was still there — no way to know — but it was not much.

The last few weeks, she stopped eating, then began sleeping more and more, looking content and peaceful, as you see in the photo. This was a wonderful thing, for I do not believe she found much contentment in her life. In fact, I believe that receiving care for her final years was a wonderful thing. She would always smile when taken outside into the sunshine, sang along with the group, enjoyed being read to.

My experience of her as my mother was completely different, of course. A rampant perfectionist, I rarely heard Penny voice her approval of anything: neither her children nor any of her three husbands, nor the functioning of any employer or political organization. That critical voice is very well internalized for me, and much of my work over the last few decades has been around that. Yet, I remember how she got up at 4am to awaken me, so I could do my paper route at the age of 14. I treasure that. I also remember how she hugged and kissed me when I got on an airplane to go to college 3000 miles away. It was an unfamiliar moment, yet I remember it so vividly, and love her.

So here I am, discharging my final tasks as her dutiful son. One of my friends shared this lovely prose by Henry Scott Holland (27 January 1847 – 17 March 1918), Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford.


I am in the 49-day mourning period, chanting a Tara prayer for her each day. You will find the prayer here on this site if you search for it.

Penny, I am so grateful for all that I received from you.

 Posted by at 5:37 pm
Oct 072015


Six days ago, a young idiot with multiple automatic weapons killed nine people in Roseburg, Oregon. As we are all reeling from the insanity and pain of this tragedy, it struck again a half-mile from my home. Steve Carter, a beloved teacher and counselor, was killed on a trail I’ve hiked many times, his dog shot also, apparently by three random young characters who stole his car and drove to Oregon.

The first event was horrific, of course, and I along with most of my friends immediately called for stricter gun control laws, licensing, something to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of unstable people. The second event had an opposite effect on me: I went and checked the automatic weapon I have in my house at 1:00am on a restless night, because I felt very afraid.

Most of my friends do not know that I was a competitive target shooter for six years, firing well over 100,000 rounds slowly and deliberately at harmless paper targets, capturing some medals and championships. I’m comfortable with guns in most forms, and even had Army ROTC training with fully automatic weapons in my teens. Once upon a time, I went hunting in the southern Arizona desert with a friend, killing several harmless rabbits and quail, then took them home and ate them. Once was enough, and I have no appetite for hunting ever since. However, I have inherited a variety of rifles and shotguns that I keep stored away, and I do have a classic Colt Model 1911 .45 automatic that I purchased for target shooting almost 40 years ago (all legally registered, by the way.) The Colt is an “antipersonnel device”, a gun designed for shooting people, even though it makes a good target weapon.

So here is the first conundrum. When I am afraid, I want to have the power of a gun at my disposal. Yet I am buddhist — with vows to avoid killing anything — and a liberal who would put legislation in place to improve society and reduce death by gunfire.

Meditation has given me the space to see much of how my ego operates. My fearful reaction is an ego response. When I breathe and meditate, I can dissolve the fear and regain a sense of balance. The power of a weapon is not needed, the universe is a good place, and the random act of three (possibly drug-addled and/or otherwise unbalanced) characters does not mean that I am in danger, or need the power of deadly weaponry.

But most of us don’t practice internal stabilization like that, and so the fact that Americans cling to their guns is not a surprise. I can easily feel the place where I want to do that, dammit. So the first conundrum just is, and I would be happy to insure or publicly declare or be tested for my weapon safety…but I’m not sure I am willing to just give up the Colt. Perhaps I would, but my ego would want to know that the measures around surrendering weapons were effective, so that others surrendered them too. Perhaps I’m not as good a buddhist as I thought I was. The part of me that creates safety, part of my core complex, still exists after decades of meditation. Hmm.

The second conundrum is about privacy and government. It turns out that the alleged killers of Steve Carter were identified by convenience store cameras and a random photo taken by someone else in the area. And the stolen 2003 VW Jetta had some kind of tracking ability, that enabled authorities to follow it to Oregon. When it’s revealed that our mobile phones keep a record of their location, and law-enforcement can access this info, we get all freaked out. When this capability is used to find the suspects, we are delighted.

Both conundrums are about trust. If I trusted my elected officials to have logical discussions and do the ‘right thing’, I could relax. I so admire the Australians, who have successfully done this; the Ozzies destroyed 20% of the guns in the country, and saw suicide rates plummet by 57% and homicide by 42%.

We do not trust our government, perhaps we haven’t been able to since the Nixon debacle more than 40 years ago.

We are not a nation divided about ideology, we are divided by trust. Here we are with a black president who is by all economic and social measures doing a fabulous job, unable to trust. AM radio pundits continue to pour venom about how bad ‘Obamacare’ is, how immigration is destroying us, Republicans create fake Benghazi investigations to change electorate opinion, and congressional action comes to a standstill, requiring the Supreme Court to deal with the backlog. Americans who trust the governmental process seem to be Democrats, those who do not seem to be Republicans.

As a person, I’ve had to heal my own trust issues to let go of weapons. As a nation, we must do the same. And it would really help if our congressional leadership and our media started consistently behaving in trustworthy ways. The Supreme Court is making good consistent decisions (not that I always agree with them). The president is exhibiting good, consistent leadership. It’s time for Congress to do the same. Then we can start to address our insane addiction to weapons.

 Posted by at 6:29 pm
Sep 092015


Ah, That Thing In The Desert. I’ve been smiling and contemplating our seven days at Burning Man, wondering what can I say about such a well-photographed and commented event? It was my first time on the playa, and we had the good fortune to stay at VW Bus Camp, in Mz. Parker, the white Westfalia you see just right of center. It was also our longest trip in her, and there was much to enjoy about the camping as well as the event itself.

The Westy is a special blend of self-contained luxury and rawness, a cozy place to retreat for a drink when the wind whips up hours of dust storms, as we had on two of the days. It is also a comfortable, lockable base of operations, with remarkable carrying capacity. We were able to bring not only the big white shade structure, but a small table, camp chairs, a ladder to make it easier to put stuff on the roof rack, two bicycles, spare gas cans, and something like 28 gallons of water weighing a couple of hundred pounds. The load totaled over half a ton, including our food, wine, clothes, solar lighting and other gear. Add in a few hundred pounds of passengers, and Mz. Parker still carried all with that gracious glide over the land that every VW bus embodies. The bed was very comfortable with an extra layer of foam. Extra reflective insulation on the windows kept it temperate inside through 80-degree days and 35-degree nights. We cooked on the built-in stove, washed dishes in the sink, and evaporated the wash water out in the dry desert air, like everyone else there. In order to leave no footprint on the desert (and avoid making a muddy mess!) everything needs to come in with us and leave with us, so every bit of water we could evaporate made our return trip lighter.

The quality of our camp was astonishing. Most of the 35 other VW buses had been to Black Rock City multiple times before, in fact, VW Bus Camp has been around more than 25 years. I loved our neighbors, who were nearly all experienced burners, living varied, mature and interesting lives out in the world. Many in our camp are BRC Rangers, the local volunteer corps of law enforcement & universal assistance, and other types of volunteers. There were also county sheriffs and semi-military Bureau of Land Management types, carrying sidearms. Unfortunately there are people who will steal stuff, so every camp has it’s own vigilance and awareness of strangers. Indeed, someone nabbed my hydration pack, then was confronted by an alert camp-mate while trying to rip off a bicycle. Fortunately, my pack came back to me – nothing lost – but it’s a sobering reminder that any city of 65,000 will have criminals.

And then there is the artwork, the art cars, and the Temple.

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Here are a couple of short videos I took that give a flavor of the experience. Night time on the open playa…

…and the Temple burn on Sunday night, watched by perhaps 30,000 people in a huge ring.

The whole week was a sensory bath. Sound was ever-present, there were places to dance all over, and except for an hour around sunrise, we heard dub in the background all the time. People wore all kinds of cool, eclectic stuff, or perhaps nothing, so every journey was a sensual and visual delight. At night, every person and bike and vehicle was lit up, so that we could move without colliding in the pitch darkness.

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It is remarkable that so many people can come together, and generally bring kindness and sharing and fun to each other. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes this possible, and have come to some unexpected conclusions. On the surface, you see a lot of technology, LED lighting, solar power, all kinds of vehicles. But that is just the beginning.

First, there is nothing for sale except ice and coffee (at least officially!) All are encouraged to bring things to gift and share, so the community spirit is very strong, and we often greeted strangers and stopped to meet folks wherever they are and whatever they were doing. We got all kinds of cool surprises: camp stickers and magnets, food and drink, decorative clothing items. We gave away dinners and tequila and mechanical assistance and massages, traded email addresses and contact info, participated in great discussions with people that knew a lot, had great skill and experience. There is no internet or cell service, so many layers of modern life peeled away within hours of arrival. This is, after all, basically camping in an inhospitable place, so we felt essentially interdependent. Juicy.

Second, the speed limit for all vehicles is 5 mph, and other than the art cars, you either walk or bicycle everywhere. No driving. So the community is a throw-back to a time before automobiles, where a journey across the community takes a while, and it takes hours to go out on the playa to view the artwork. This means that most folks spend significant time locally, get to know their neighbors and neighboring camps, and tend to frequent the clubs and events and places to get a drink that are nearby. Our own camp ran The Leopard Lounge, a bamboo-sided bar and rest stop where anyone could stop by and get a shot of tequila and a foot massage, and I spent an hour or two there each day, offering what I could, and laughing and sipping with complete strangers.

Alkali dust is everywhere, and very hard on feet, hands, noses and eyes. We arrived on Tuesday last week, and had major afternoon dust storms on Wednesday and Thursday. Fortunately, we came prepared, taping our windows and vents shut, sealing up the Westy. We also came with Bag Balm (mostly lanolin, great for dry feet), eye drops, and vinegar to make soothing washes that neutralized the dust. I did repair work with the Balm on several folks whose feet were taking a beating from the playa, and enjoyed sharing something that was new to most. But the dust also forced us to huddle in our camp, rest, talk, and value times when we could go out and explore.

The combination of technology, free exchange, slow travel, and barren environment creates an ecologically sensitive, fertile, connected and creative space. Absolutely remarkable. Modern urban planning is attempting to do this by intermingling living space with businesses, like my own downtown Fairfax. However it just does not happen as long as everyone has a car, and needs to drive somewhere to work or dine or visit friends. I wonder what our lives would feel like if we could give up cars and money. It’s not going to happen without some horrible holocaust, but it was wonderful to drop into such a different world for a week. We will be back next year. With Mz. Parker. And I will be volunteering somehow, somewhere. I love that all our technology enables us to strip so much away and do this together. With ice and coffee.

 Posted by at 5:33 pm
Aug 092015
the cat nature of impact

I am fascinated by our impact on each other, partially because it is the only form of permanence that we have, and partially because it is so close to the heart of incarnation and karma. So I was moved to tears when I read (yet another amazing) obituary in The Economist…for a cat. Go to […]

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Jul 142015
a day of preciousness

Today has been one of those beautiful, synchronistic days where I seem to have gotten all the pieces in place to feel precious human existence. We turn so easily away from death, thinking and worrying about all the mundane details, our mortgage, what our relatives or neighbors think of us…the honest truth is that death […]

 Posted by at 8:53 pm
Jun 072015
i contact

I’m learning some remarkable subtle lessons about how we all engage with each other, about our desire, and about karma. This is a happy coincidence of changes on the outside, a teaching I received yesterday, and my buddhist practice. I say coincidence, but really, is there any such thing in an existence where every thought […]

 Posted by at 10:33 am
May 292015
the story of a cap

Pigeons, horns, cigarette smoke, diesel exhaust, roaring construction generators. Knots of people walking quickly and determinedly, often gazing into a smart phone, or lost in a private world of sound from earbuds. A man yelling at the top of his lungs “TREAT BLACK VETERANS BETTER!” Trash jewelry and tacky artwork sold on sidewalk tables. Six […]

 Posted by at 1:38 pm
Mar 152015
wrecking crew

I backed a Kickstarter campaign over a year ago that just came to fruition with the release of The Wrecking Crew, a rockumentary movie about the group of LA session musicians in the ’60’s and ’70’s that played on more albums and songs than I can keep track of. I was able to watch the […]

 Posted by at 1:27 pm
Jan 232015
love and fear and fearlessness, part ii

I’ve been reading theoasisofmysoul, catching up with the last month of Ara’s postings, and there are some profound topics he opens. This man has been wandering on a BMW motorcycle for a decade since his son passed away. We share a deep wounding, a love for BMW airheads, and a life in the west. I […]

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Dec 072014

This evening is my first completely solo time in my home in ten years. It’s a little startling, because it came about quickly through happenstance, like a random collision of pinball events. Since December 2004, I’ve always had a cat (and most of the time my partner!) sharing my home space. Tonight Jen is out […]

 Posted by at 6:28 pm