Aug 092015
 

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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 this web page, and check it out. Tama, the vice-president of a Japanese railroad, died on June 22nd at the age of 16.

Moved to tears, wow. Yes, the Economist has great writers, yet this cat touches something deep in us. I’ve found blogs about personal journeys to meet Tama, countless photos, news articles and videos.

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Everything in the obit might be written about one of us, and in fact when you boil our lives down to their essence, it’s a lot like this single page of prose. We move through life doing what we do – sleeping, wearing some funny stuff, and in this case rubbing up against the legs of people – yet know not anything of our impact. Tama became a symbol: generated livelihoods for people near and far, resurrected a train line, and created some level of delight and fulfillment for thousands (or millions, who knows?) of people traveling distances to see her. She broke gender and species barriers in Japanese management. Inspired an entire world of train decor. Now there appear to be non-human stationmasters all over Japan, including cats, dogs, and even a goat.

It is easy to dismiss this story as a reflection of Japanese culture, and yes, there is that quirkiness about the Japanese that perhaps all of us, not Japanese, find fascinating. But why would a simple obituary about a cat touch me so deeply?

Maybe it is my secret fantasy that one day after I’m gone, I will be seen and remembered in this way, having a rippling impact on the people around me that shifts the economy, cultural attitudes, train decor, and gets reported on the evening news. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be the obituary on the back page of The Economist, like Nelson Mandela or Allen Ginsberg? Some form of permanence, having a lasting impact on the world? Perhaps I could have a planet or comet or nebula named after me forever, lasting longer than ancient Arabic star names. Humans or non-humans, in ten thousand years will still be referring to me by name, even if their pronunciation is wrong.

This is illusory of course, as all of these things, the train, The Economist, my house, my body and everyone who knows me will be dust. In ten thousand years, or perhaps a hundred or a dozen, the alphabet, and surely Childers, will be erased by an asteroid striking the earth, or techno-linguistic shifts beyond our wildest imagination, or a gamma-ray burst that sends the planet back to the cockroaches.

I wonder why ‘permanence’ and ‘legacy’ stir such feeling. When I sit still and reach into what I feel, it is vast and divine and good. My life falls into refreshing perspective when I remember my tiny, transient place in the universe. Sitting outside on the deck at midnight, watching for the occasional Perseid meteor and contemplating the stars and planets, I find that same vast, divine, good sense. It’s so much the opposite of what my ego wants. My tiny self wants to be remembered, and my greater self is enormously content to relax into vastness.

This is Refuge. Palden-la and my other teachers ask, “what is it that truly gives us refuge?” We seek refuge and comfort, deeper meaning in all the toys of our ego, the people and things we love, the causes we support, the legacy we create. Yet all are transient, and true refuge only exists in that which is transcendent. I realize now, when I gaze into the night sky or the eyes of a contented cat, I see the Buddha.

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Jul 142015
 

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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 and loss keep us more present, more in a state of gratitude and kindness.

In the Tibetan buddhist realm, each day of my practice begins with the ‘four thoughts that turn the mind towards bodhicitta’, and my day is sharper and more delightful and kind because of them. The first thought is that human existence is rare and wonderful, and the second thought is that it will end soon. Wups, you’d think that such a thought would be depressing, but actually it’s quite the opposite – if today is my last day, what will I do with my time? How will I treat others and myself, how will I feel about each moment of sunlight, each vision of moving clouds or trees or burst of color?

Struggling with my daily practice for months, I had a dream last night that brought them into a new focus for me. I can feel how my practice is a way of nurturing myself on a very deep level, and so this morning I easily found the hour to do ngöndro. The four thoughts were clear and penetrating, my heart felt open as I practiced, and the rest of the day flowed so naturally that I got much accomplished, supported co-workers, found stuff by accident that Jen and I need for Burning Man. At dinner this evening, I received a comment from a friend that gave me new insight into my heart and my love for both my partner and myself. My life is mostly free of tension and anxiety these days, as I view my experiences through the lens of precious human existence.

I am totally blown away to come home this evening and find out that one of my longest lifetime friends – not a close friend, but a presence for 40 years, since high school – just passed away last week. I had not talked to Randy Jonsson, pictured above, since before Nancy passed, even though he lived only a few miles away. I don’t know any details, I know he has left a grieving widow, and that they had a deep and caring relationship. I feel so sad that he is gone, and also sad that I have not been in touch.

Randy was an eternally cheerful and upbeat man, passionate about his partner, filmmaking, boats and scuba, wilderness, raw milk, and god knows what else. Now he is gone, and I can only remember him, his voice and his juicy zest for all that he loved, and allow his memory to remind me each morning of precious human existence. Perhaps that is the most important things we can learn, again and again, when we lose the people we love.

From Tara’s heart rainbow light shines forth throughout the six realms and the bardo,
Enveloping the deceased one, Randy Jonsson, wherever he is,
Purifying his karma, and infusing him with Tara’s radiant blessing.
His form becomes brilliant spheres of light and dissolve into Tara’s heart-mind,
A realm beyond the cycles of suffering, a realm of absolute purity and bliss.

 Posted by at 8:53 pm
Jun 072015
 
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Samantabhadra close-up, with his consort Samantabhadri

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 and action has karmic consequences?

This little story begins with conversations that I’ve had with Jen over the last few months about our future together, and what kind of life we want to create for ourselves. We both desire more flexibility, and the first step has been to look for ways to work from home more. We’ve talked about consulting, individually and together, and we’ve talked about where we want to live, both short-term and long-term. So I’ve been setting an intention for more flexibility in my work.

A month ago, I learned that the company I work for is being acquired. The public company Lyris will be dissolved, and a new email marketing/software organization is being created…as a virtual company. Everyone works from home. I have the opportunity to become an architect in the new organization, working with others on a global basis. This is delightful, and exciting for me, as I worked from home for years at Sun Microsystems. So lesson #1 is to remember, yet again, that intention is a powerful force. I’m not responsible for the Lyris acquisition of course, but I am accountable for my desire, and it’s my choice to be receptive as this opportunity shows up.

So I will be working from home soon, within a month perhaps. I remember when I started, back in 2003, that I would spend days seeing no other people except my wife, and I had to force myself to go out, meet friends for lunch, take hikes, do whatever I could to engage with life away from my computer. A challenge when working from home is creating contact with others, and avoiding isolation. The tools are better now, Skype video chat and Google hangouts make it much easier to see and interact with co-workers. However, there is a curious issue with virtual tools.

Have you ever noticed how eye contact is almost impossible over video? The camera and the image of the other person may be near each other on the screen, but you cannot look into the camera at the same time as you look at the image of the other person. So video conferencing feels a little surreal, like we are 90% in contact, but never fully connected.

I’ve been practicing eye contact for many years, and like most of us, direct eye contact can feel a little frightening to me. There are workshop exercises around this, and gazing directly into another’s eyes for minutes at a time is a very intimate experience. There is research demonstrating how intimate connection (and even long-term relationships) can be created by a combination of increasingly personal conversation topics, and periods of prolonged eye contact.

Yesterday at a buddhist teaching, a group of my friends combined some very specific meditations with direct eye contact. The result for me was startling; I could track feelings of fear and excitement as they arose in the moments I am gazing into the eyes of another. This is a direct experience of attachment and aversion, the Third Noble Truth. And a profound learning became available as I released my feelings and placed my attention directly on the experience of meeting another persons’ eyes. In that moment, I had no awareness of phenomena, of my other senses, I became completely present for the connection between the two of us, if only for a moment.

I don’t know what this is, and I cannot describe it. I encourage you to take a few minutes with a friend or a loved one, and try it for yourself. If you are like me, you may feel intensely uncomfortable at first. Remind yourself that there is no harm possible, try to notice the thoughts and feelings that arise, and put them aside for a moment. You will find something deeper, and perhaps divine, beyond.

We experience this all the time, as we look at each other throughout the day. We only meet eyes briefly, yet those brief moments enable us to connect in ways that are important, even with our co-workers. As I move into a job where I work from home full time, I will miss this contact, and feel sad about the loss. At the same time, I’ve learned something new as a result. And I deeply appreciate this insight.

 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
 
solitude

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
Oct 182014
 
one big altar

(December 8, 2013) Five years ago, this was how my house looked at Christmas. In fact, I have a blog post exactly five years ago tonight, with the same photo. Nancy and I moved into our new home in July 2008, and our first holiday season was an opportunity to put some lights up. This […]

 Posted by at 3:17 pm
Oct 162014
 
attachment is a good thing

Fireworks are detonating in San Francisco tonight, as the SF Giants win the National League Championship, and go to the World Series. WOOOO-HOOOOO! Let me make my feelings clear! It’s especially sweet that Travis Ishikawa’s homer ended the game. He has been a workhorse all year, and there is something perfect about him finding such […]

 Posted by at 10:13 pm
Aug 232014
 
returning home

Ah, home. The word means something different when we are days or weeks away. A driving trip to a distant place makes home far away, and I had lots of time to contemplate as I journeyed back with my Canadian flotilla. Here are some numbers: 6138 miles total on this trip, and the return took […]

 Posted by at 6:15 pm