Jul 112017
 
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A short section of the trail to Machik Labdrön’s cave

The very first teaching of Buddhism is that misery is caused by attachment. No wonder that so much of the dharma and practices look at attachment, and no attachment is stronger than the one to our body.

To really feel this, let me explain the somewhat-confusing picture you are seeing. This is a rock about a foot wide, several feet in front of me. The trees and houses to the left of the rock are about a half-kilometer away, 800 feet below. For scale, you can see the tip of my boot at the bottom of the photo. I am on a trail in the Haa Valley of Bhutan, on the side of a cliff. My right shoulder is against the cliff, my hand in a crevice. The trail goes over the rock, and continues past tiny herbs and a small bush in the upper right about six feet away.

If you can sink in to the sensation of standing against this sheer rock face on a trail about a foot wide, then you are probably experiencing attachment to your body. I was, quite frankly, terrified as I carefully placed my feet and hands, yet not paralyzed. I was able feel both the fear and my body, yet move calmly on the wet, muddy trail. This is Meditation Boot Camp, no hemming-and-hawing, no choice; one must bring body and mind smoothly together to traverse nearly a kilometer of cliff.

Hold that feeling. Death inches away, calm, trusting.

Chöd is a profound Tibetan Buddhist practice, where one offers up one’s own body (and all other demons and ‘neuroses’) joyously. A Google search will turn up plenty of information, starting with this Wikipedia article. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in a Chöd ceremony here in Bhutan. If you have a Facebook account, you can see a video of part of it here, and get a sense of the beautiful ritual that brings the experience to life.

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The practice of Chöd was transmitted to an enlightened and revered 11th-century woman named Machik Labdrön, and so my story comes home. The trail I’m on leads from Juney Druk, a cave she stayed in, to Katsho Goemba, a nearby monastery. Having experienced Chöd practice before, imagining I know something about attachment to my body, I am shocked into new awareness on this trail Machik must have traversed many times.

Our 11-year-old guide, a monk from the monastery, apparently runs this trail frequently, nimble and carefree as a mountain goat. He laughs and smiles, points out sections that are especially dangerous and delicious little orange berries we can pluck as we go, and patiently sits and waits as we carefully make our way. I believe he is the most advanced Chöd practitioner I have ever met, knowing something in his young body that I can scarcely remember. What would it feel like to be as unattached as he? Was I really once like that? I have so much to unlearn, to unattach from.

bhutan present

 Buddhism, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on bhutan present
Jun 292017
 

Punaka Dzong, and the Punaka Valley

Yesterday in Bhutan was quite a shock. After 13 years, I was expecting change, but was completely unprepared for what I’ve found. The heart is the same, the people are the same, the beauty and spiritual depth are all still here, but everything else is different.

By that, I mean that the modern world has arrived in some big ways. Cars. Electricity. Paved and widened roads. Cell phones. Glass windows. Road signs. Modern hotels. Spices and fruit and organic produce. Cows. Can you believe it, even the animals are more modern? There were few cattle in the country when I was last here, mostly yak, now I see cows everywhere, wandering the parks and hillsides of Punaka, the roads between Paro and Thimphu. The traffic on the roads was nearly all buses and construction trucks, now there are more than a dozen cars for each bus, and even some taxis. Where once many houses had no glass in the windows (only shutters against the fierce winters), most are now glassed in, and there is plenty of new construction.

Because there are more people. The towns all seem to have grown 40 or 50 percent, at least the larger towns of Paro and Thimphu. This does not seem to be due to immigration, although there must be some, it seems to be a side effect of better health care and a general improvement of living conditions. There are more kids and schools, and indeed people seem to be better-educated overall than when I was last here.

Last night, I realized I was apparently more resistant to change than they are. One of my fellow travelers told an illuminating story at breakfast that helped me see even deeper into my expectations: how dare they change from what I remembered? My ego wants to reconnect with something remembered and treasured, rather than simply receive what is. (Sounds painfully similar to what many Americans seem to want, in electing Donald Trump. Ech, that hurts. Sometimes I wish I was less good at noticing connections).

So I am pretty much slammed by how non-present I was arriving here, but fortunately, with awareness comes a rapid shift (along with much internal laughter!) and today unfolded into an incredible day. I am here, now, gratefully absorbing every moment.

For the truth is, this country and everything about it are even more beautiful than before. The summer green and the lush rice fields far exceed the springtime of my first visit, I see less abject poverty (though it still exists) and more restaurants and shops, new houses with clean white walls and extravagant traditional trim paint, good roads everywhere and humorous road signs warning about drinking and driving. Plus we’ve had nothing but great meals, with interesting seasoning and fresh vegetables. I have not tasted a single yak product yet, while my memory is that a day didn’t go by on my last visit without yak butter, cheese or milk in something.

In fact, everything tastes better when I’m fully present. That is the great gift of Bhutan to me so far, a deep Buddhist reflection of my better self.

Jun 242017
 

My Bhutan journey begins and ends in Bangkok. The last time I was here, I totally enjoyed the bustle, the street food, temples and water tours. This time, I feel like I’m plunged into a distopian Chicago on a sweltering day. The noise, humidity, crowds, overhead expressways, beggars missing limbs, food vendors with stacks of raw fish and chicken, and clots of roaring motorbikes feel oppressive. When I had to take a bath in lukewarm water, I hit my limit. It took less than eight hours.

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Motorcycles, crowds and expressways in Bangkok

Seldom have I appreciated money and internet as much as Friday morning, when I nailed a round-trip flight to Chiang Mai and a beautiful small hotel for $150 and $50/night, respectively. I must also thank my body, which gave me very clear direction to get the fuck out of there. Decision creates opportunity and change, and I can only laugh at myself remembering how I used to over-think everything. Now I am seldom stuck in my head; years of meditation make it easy to notice when I am thinking, and life is far too short for thought, which I once believed was faster than intuition. My body made a decision in milliseconds, and I knew in my heart it was the right one. Within a few hours, I was landing in the Chiang Mai valley, surrounded by lush green mountains. The relaxed taxi driver was full of information and amusing political commentary, and although 5 million people live here, the pace is easy and everyone seems even more polite and friendly. I hardly thought that possible.

Thai people are very kind and sweet. This really encourages me to slow down and relax, to meet people’s eyes, and see who each individual is, to soften and open my face so they can see me too. This meeting, however momentary, is so essentially human – it’s immediate feedback and acknowledgement, I see you, namasté, we share a world together and this is good. In the place of such a meeting, I immediately feel how any judgment or opinion that comes up is just about me, not about the other person. So delicious. There is a lot of space here to just be ourselves, and I can see why several people I know have moved here permanently.

Walking through the streets for hours, I encounter many characteristic aspects of this place and time. The buildings are a radical blend of old and new, clean design and tropical decay, chaos and order. I wonder what this was built for, and what its purpose is now?

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Spirit houses are everywhere, and one of the special pleasures of early morning is encountering one with fresh incense burning. The house next to my hotel has chickens, and a rooster is proudly displayed in their’s. I found this beautiful garden and spirit house on an elegant property with an open gate, surrounded by flowering trees. The contrast with the apartment building is striking.

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Spirit house in Chiang Mai

And walking into the old center of the city, I encounter temple after temple after temple. The well-known ones are filled with Chinese tourists; others are being restored, largely quiet. I find one under reconstruction, completely open and empty, allowing me to enter alone barefoot, contemplate the murals on the walls, connect with the enormous central Buddha, do prostrations, and leave a donation. Just as it should be.

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Central Buddha in a Wat (temple) under repair

Jun 212017
 
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Packing for a four week trip

Once upon a time during a difficult transition in my life, I went to Bhutan. The two-week journey was strange and magical, through a land of deep heart, Buddhist teaching and belief everywhere you look. It gave me a chance to feel what I was truly reaching for, to understand that the time had come to break some old patterns and take some risks. I also came back with a new-found respect for Buddhism and what it brings to our lives and culture. I was 46 years old, and the years since that journey have been rich, productive, sorrowful and delightful.

About six months, ago, for reasons hardly known to me, I decided to go back. As I hurtle through the air, 7 miles up with 36 lbs of belongings and gifts, I am feeling confusion, trust, fear and anticipation. My home has vanished into the mists for four weeks.

The last time I traveled by myself for this long, I was off to college to create a new life, and indeed I did. Now I am semi-retired, working on a start-up on my own terms, living in an amazing house with an amazing woman, secure in most things, happier and more content than I can ever remember feeling. Why am I doing this?

I’ve made big changes in the last year. I quit working, Jen moved in with me, and what was a great relationship has become so deeply satisfying that I no longer have any questions about what partnership is for me. Something else is happening, something subtle and intensely personal and deep. Perhaps it’s my second “Saturn return”, a major astrological event that shakes everything up. My second wife became terminally ill during her second Saturn return, one article says, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger“. Another website says this about mine:

Cross-cultural relationships will be your learning grounds…If you haven’t traveled extensively, your Saturn Return would be an ideal time to live abroad…you’re an eternal student of life. Your Saturn Return could be a great time to go back to school for that graduate degree or special certification. Your career could involve traveling, teaching, or publishing.

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A view of western Alaska from 38,000 feet

Travel is definitely happening, the surprising landscape below the plane is like none I’ve ever seen, it must be Alaska. I don’t know where I am, just that I will land in Hong King in eight hours. Looking at the Petri dish below of lakes and tundra and rivers and clouds, it’s like looking at my life so far. I have overview, can describe what I see, but perhaps have little real knowledge of what it is.

This journey also brings something about telling stories. We learn almost everything through stories, and several of my friends are urging me to tell more of them. A good story takes us out into the unknown, finds challenge and resource, and brings wisdom and meaning back for all to share. One thing I know is that the photos and stories I bring back from this journey will enrichen my life. Beyond that, I don’t know. The next four weeks are about to unfold, and I am determined to sink into the experience with all the feeling and vulnerability I can find. And bring back some good stories.

serendipity revisited

 Reflection  Comments Off on serendipity revisited
Oct 292016
 
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Labyrinth at the top of Oak Manor, Fairfax, CA

This week, something happened that was so mind-bogglingly improbable, that serendipity itself is called into question. This is the center of a labyrinth at the top of the ridge we live on. Today, it’s wet, thank you to the forces, rains seem to be settling in early this year. As you can see, folks have put all kinds of cool things in the center — and in fact, this labyrinth is a community project, with some amusing history…it was destroyed by bulldozer about ten years ago by the Marin Open Space District, and then they discovered it’s on private property, so the district supervisor was justifiably fired/relocated for being a dork. But on to the story…

We hiked to the labyrinth a few days ago with pockets full of small altar objects, things that have been kicking around closets and cabinets in the house for years. A red glass heart, a really pretty fist-sized sea shell, a piece of quartz, a small child’s toy, and a half-dozen other items. Some came from Nancy, some were left here by friends at past ritual events…it was time to find a home for them, and the center of the labyrinth was perfect. So we headed up the hill with a friend, walked the labyrinth thoughtfully, and planted the objects. Lovely morning all around.

That same evening, attending class at Sukhasiddhi, I happened to get in a conversation with a woman I had never met before. For some odd reason, we were talking about hiking, and I found out that she and her young son had just happened to walk up to the same labyrinth in the afternoon, where he discovered all the new objects in the middle, and was fascinated by the sea shell, the glass heart…

Perhaps a half-dozen people visit this spot each day, and I know many of them from my neighborhood. This woman and her family don’t even live in my town, and just happened to go up there. On the same day. And found the same items. And we met each other for the first time. And we talked about hiking. And we discovered that we had had the same objects in our hands a few hours apart, miles away from where we were standing.

Minds blown, we stared at each other, and laughed and hugged.

Now, I’m a firm believer in serendipity, and mostly look at coincidence as the magic and teaching of the universe. I have been reading the book: E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality, by Pam Grout. That is blowing my mind too. It is almost as though the universe thoughtfully served up a mind-bogglingly unlikely coincidence just to make sure I’m paying attention. Apparently I’m not the only one, as I just discovered that there is an official acronym for this: MBUC.

Ok, I’m paying attention. And studying things they never taught me in college, while letting go much of what they did teach me. It’s actually an amusing relief to find out there is so much to unlearn. Like, uh, everything I thought I knew.

Apparently this happy sequence was not enough, and the universe has a sense of humor. We were out having lunch today with friends at one of our favorite places, Saltwater in Point Reyes. Our companions and Jen and I were engaged in a fun conversation about cooking, about baking, about how Michael Pollan’s series “Cooked” (on Netflix) changed baking habits. And he and his wife walk in to the restaurant. I can only laugh with the pleasure and divinity of all this.

 Posted by at 10:42 pm

there comes a time

 Reflection  Comments Off on there comes a time
Jul 242016
 

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It’s been a summer of change, as I’ve quit my corporate gig as of the beginning of the month. Not sure how much software engineering is in my future, but I don’t think I will ever work in a company again, unless it’s a company I help create.

Uh, retirement? Cracking this door open, a world of feeling bursts forth. Fear. Do I have enough resources? What would my life look like when I’m not building software stuff? Who am I if I’m not a “provider”, if I’m not “productive”, if I’m not “competitive”? Excitement. Camping, motorcycle trips, woodworking projects, volunteer work, learn new things! My brain kind of explodes as I sit with what might be the biggest internal change I’ve ever embraced;

What I do know, after two weeks of blissful industry, is that I get to do more of what I really want. And more of what I really need… letting objects and expectations go, feel into what I truly desire, plan how to devote my time and energy. Right now life is quite full, as July is dedicated to moving Jen into my home. This means tossing more and more of the stuff I’ve inherited from my parents, stepparents, grandparents, and the last remnants of Nancy’s archives, books and clothes. The purging and organization feels great, our house feels better, cleaner, clearer, ours.

I am honestly surprised how life can be completely spontaneous! Someone needs a hand moving, Jen and I engage in a good deep discussion or wild brainstorming, we can just do it without schedule worries. Friends with a plane want to fly up to Tahoe for lunch, well, sure, I’m in! If I have a spare hour or two, there are a dozen projects to tackle, and all feel good to work on. My habitual focus is a great asset, as I could easily lose myself in the ocean of options available to me. I’ve been able to keep a few projects in my mind at all times, and knock them off one by one, without feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

On the professional front, as if by magic, two startup opportunities have come to my attention, chances to drive the whole development cycle, the product architecture and company build-out from scratch. One in particular involves both Jen and a friend of ours, and has consciousness-building and positive-karmic aspects that I find very attractive. Perhaps we will be working together on a new adventure that has benefits the world.

Already, the next few months feel full. Burning Man, a retreat on Kauai in September, a trip to Pasadena and and various other travel plans beyond that. This feels like the best part of my life is ahead of me, so much joy and contentment and pleasure in what I do each day.

It seems tragic that we cannot easily set our lives up to create this kind of existence. As I release most of my identity as a professional engineer, I must acknowledge that I’ve worked for 39 years with little time off, and I’ve earned this, before I can accept it and relax into this new life. Receiving such bounty brings me to tears of gratitude.

 Posted by at 9:13 pm

life in a shopping bag

 Reflection  Comments Off on life in a shopping bag
May 212016
 

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Today I happened to notice that I was carrying my usual small reusable shopping bag, and really looked at it for perhaps the first time in ten years. My first thought was, Wow, twenty four years old, and I’m still using this thing. The second thought was, How many shopping bags has it kept me from using, and the answer is perhaps five hundred. What a good investment, a free handout from a seminar weekend I never attended, one of the most green objects I have ever owned. So interesting how my value for this little bag opens into something much greater when I contemplate it, when I actually notice it.

The bag itself carries meaning, in the ineradicable stain patterns on the white canvas. There is a small green grass stain on the bottom, from the time I took it to a concert in Sigmund Stern Grove in San Francisco, to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band 20 years ago with high school friends and my dear first wife. I certainly had a wonderful time that day, or that little detail would never have stuck in my head.

It came to me because my wife worked for the California College of Pediatric Medicine at the time. She and I got married less than five months after this Super Seminar, and we used several bags like this to pack stuff away for the backyard ceremony that filled our home with guests and love. We separated a dozen years ago, and somehow this bag traveled with me. I remember I used it to carry some very immediate and personal items, like my wallet and glasses, cell phone and address book, as I packed and left our home. Perhaps that is why I carry this bag with me most of the time, even though I have a dozen other larger, newer, less graphic cloth shopping bags, still sparkling clean.

Oddly, nothing around this bag’s creation and transmittance to me exists any longer. The marriage that brought the bag to me is long gone, and so is the California College of Pediatric Medicine, which was absorbed by another organization in 2002. I am no longer in touch with most of the people I knew at the time, having moved through divorce, re-marriage, widowhood and new partnership, and moving into new living places five times since the bag came into my awareness. So many changes, yet my relationship with this bag endures and deepens.

The bag itself is sturdy, still as functional as the day it was new. The company that made it, Crestline Company Inc., 22 West 21st Street, New York, is still around. A good example of the nature of phenomena: there is the thing (whatever it is), and our personal world of experience, perception, meaning projected upon it. The thing endures, das ding an sich (thank you, Kant!), while all our projections come and go like ripples on a pond.

I find myself noticing the objects in my life today with fresh perspective and much more respect. My world is drenched in depth and meaning, I need only look with grateful eyes.

 Posted by at 4:48 pm

on bonzos and memory

 Geek, Reflection  Comments Off on on bonzos and memory
Mar 032016
 
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After spontaneously singing to Jen at 3am recently, a song from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, I’m noticing some of the layers that assemble me, specifically, how my memory works. I’m also in a several day sprint where the evil disc jockey inside my head is playing a random stream of Bonzo music throughout the day and night. As I result, I am smiling at strangers as I silently hear The King of Scurf for the twentieth time while shopping for potatoes.

For those of you too young, or perhaps too sane to have been exposed to the Bonzos in the late 60’s and early ’70’s, I urge you to go to iTunes, where there is a large selection of their material. Or watch the Vivian Stanshell documentary on YouTube (the entire sound track is Bonzo stuff). Imagine early Monte Python, with great musical skills and a wide variety of instruments. It’s like Tom Lehrer, a random selection of good studio musicians and FireSign Theatre got stuffed in a studio for a week. I discovered the Bonzes in college, when I found a cut-out (remember those?) album for something like $4. “The History of the Bonzos” is a double album, and I tortured several sets of roommates playing bits of it. They were a theater act as well: inside the album is a photo of a bearded young English gent, in suspenders and a t-shirt, wailing away on a sax in one hand, holding up a thought-bubble sign over his head saying, “Wow, I’m really expressing myself!” Sure wish I’d gotten to see them live. imgres-2016-03-3-18-52.jpg

But the topic is memory, and I ponder how I can remember huge tracts of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, every Tom Lehrer and Spike Jones lyric, and so many Bonzos songs that I have not even heard in 35 years. How does my brain do that? I can’t even remember the name of a new co-worker five minutes after I’m introduced, yet this stuff lingers like a deep kiss.

Of course, there is a whole theory of neural encoding. The axons and peptides and neurotransmitters and ganglia and dendrites and god knows what complex mechanisms create mRNA and whatever, so my brain is polluted by a combination of chemical storage and interconnection that permanently maps The Intro and The Outro (“And Adolph Hitler on vibes!”) in my overstuffed skull. My psychology classes with the glorious Hans-Lukas Teuber, who studied brain function by looking at brain injuries for 50 years, should have taught me how memory works. By the way, Dr. Teuber is embedded in here too, he had the bushiest gray eyebrows of any person I’ve ever met, which he wielded like scimitars as he punctuated his lectures with them. According to Teuber, that memory alone is frozen in a interconnected chemical morass involving millions of cells in my head.

Then new research is appearing to suggest that there is a hereditary mechanism for memory, that phobias may be passed down through DNA from one generation to the next. At the very least, this opens the topic that memory is not a simple thing, mere encoding in our brain.

I have a different experience of memory, since I had startling encounters with Nancy for weeks after she passed away — and believe me, she had her memory. My grandmother visited my dreams and communicated some things the night she passed away on the other side of the country. I could be deluded, perhaps these things never happened. But memory must be far more than neurochemistry…how does memory travel without a body?

Maybe memories just exist, out there like archetypes, waiting for one of us to catch them, tune them in. Our brain could be more like a radio than a storage device, we can certainly step into archetypes that are not our own. Maybe there is no memory, there is only karma. Maybe it’s just a miracle, here for our shared and private delight, all the lyrics ever sung by the Bonzos are on my radio station.

And I would really like to know who is doing the tuning. Urban Spaceman just came on, and *I* didn’t do it.

 Posted by at 6:52 pm

enzed

 Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on enzed
Feb 282016
 

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Jen and I are just back from a two-week trip to New Zealand, with a couple of days in Hawaii on the way home. We met in Wellington, spent a day exploring, then took the ferry to the south island and drove for ten days. You can see lots of pictures in my Facebook album.

Basically, the whole place is beautiful. Mountains, coast line, waterfalls, rainbows, neat farms, fields of sheep and cattle, tidy towns with interesting shops, good restaurants…there is nothing about this country that sucks. We had great meals, found lovely wines and beers, met gracious and friendly people everywhere. After starting in Wellington on the north island, we took the ferry and our rental car down to the south island, and traveled to Nelson, Golden Bay, Greymouth, the glaciers, through Mount Aspiring National Park, the lakes at Wanaka, to Cardrona and Queenstown. There was a full day trip to Doubtful Sound in the huge Fiordland National Park, and a day of play on the mountain by Queenstown on six great zip lines.

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We drove out east to Dunedin, a rather classic town with Georgian architecture, stopped in Oamaru to see more cool buildings, an old seaport with stone warehouses, converted into a collection of nice shops including a steampunk museum, and one of the coolest book shops I’ve ever visited, then north to Christchurch. After flying back to Auckland, we heading home, goofing off for two days of tourist fun in Waikiki. Below are the old Savoy Hotel in Dunedin, the bookstore and shops in Oamaru, and the view from the top of Diamond Head in Waikiki (THAT was a serious hike in the heat!)

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So yes, it was a great vacation, one I’ve wanted to take for decades. And I find myself deeply changed by this little journey, I find my viewpoint on many things in America quite different. Some of my shift is due to presidential primary election drama, with the scary prospect of Donald Trump getting elected. (The Kiwis often asked us if our country was losing it’s collective mind.) But my internal change is really about New Zealand, what is so remarkable and different about life there.

  • There are no sirens, even in the bigger cities. It’s just quiet. Oh, the town of Takaka has a volunteer fire department, so something like a tidal wave siren goes off once or twice a day, to call the volunteers to a road accident or kitchen fire or something. But the ambience does not include police or fire sirens. Huge difference.
  • Gasoline prices were uniform throughout the country, NZ$1.73/liter, with diesel at NZ$0.98. All the diesel vehicles seemed clean; there were no clouds of smoke from buses or trucks that I saw.
  • 100 kph is the speed limit (62 mph) on most roads, which are almost all well-built 2-lane highways.
  • Drivers are good, respectful and safe. In 1200 miles of travel, we did not see one road accident, and only saw about five police cars.
  • There is no litter along the roads.
  • There are no billboards.
  • There are no pot holes.
  • There are no planes flying overhead, unless you happen to be near one of the three major airports.
  • The peak income tax rate is lower.

Really, a most delightful thing is that almost everyone is middle-class. We saw no one homeless, no one particularly rich — although there are some expensive homes here and there, and the occasional Jaguar or Audi on the road. Nearly everyone seemed cheerfully employed, with a positive outlook on life. There is very good public health care, great education, great roads and infrastructure. The top income tax rate is 33%, more than 6 points lower than federal income tax in the US. And there is no state income tax.

It’s not perfect, of course. For example, Queenstown is so flooded by tourists that there are almost no apartments or houses available for the folks that work in the shops there. We chatted with one of our zipline guides, who has to share a bedroom in a rented house because living space is so hard to find. Even though the food was very good and reasonably priced everywhere we went, we did notice a shortage of greenery with our meals, lots of meat (and great fish!), not much fruit. But that may be cultural preference.

It’s quite amazing how much healthier the society is when the government does not spend 54% of revenue on the military. I did not experience any class distinctions or prejudice — though I’m sure some exist — and there are Māori place names and protected sites everywhere. The Wellington Museum has a huge Māori exhibit, both very educational and respectful. Māori art and tattoos are everywhere. I chatted for an hour with a fellow who emigrated from Fiji when he was young, and now makes a fine living near Auckland, lives in a house near the coast with his wife and two daughters, and any way I can see it, is successful and happy. I talked with a restaurant owner from the Cook Islands, again, happily married with family, running a successful Indian restaurant in Dunedin. The Oamaru bookstore owner is from Texas, and has never looked back after becoming a Kiwi.

I’m deeply questioning my life in North America. New Zealand seems so civilized compared to life here. Work/life balance is just a given, kids are well-behaved and well-educated, different cultures intermingle freely, and people are just cheerful, dammit. The biggest current issue the country is confronting seems to be choosing a new flag.

I want to live more like they do. I want to live in a society that cares for their people, and spends government funds wisely. So much of the rest of the world, Canada, most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand and parts of South America, seem to do this better than we do; when do I give up on my native land and move?

 Posted by at 12:06 am

penny is gone

 Reflection  Comments Off on penny is gone
Nov 032015
 

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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.

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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