ttitd iv

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_69e-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

This was my fourth year at Burning Man, my first solo trip, and my first art build. Last year at this time, Jen an I were wiped out after nine days on the playa, and the noise and chaos at the end of the week as ten thousand party peeps arrived for the weekend. This year, I left Saturday morning, feeling replete and happy. And really dusty.

This is how we have camped the last couple of times. Actually a photo from 2018, it looked pretty much the same this year, except I was packed in on all sides by other Westys (here is what it looked like in 2015). The popup shade structure is quick and easy, and the shade netting totally helps with wind, privacy and temperature. I added more solar lights this year, so home was easy to find at 3am.

The art project was Purr Pods, by Paige Tascher, one of my campmates. I worked on it with her for 3 months. Three welded steel cats, with LED lighting, illuminated eyes and hearts, and sound transducers and touch sensors. They each had separate personalities, with sounds recorded from Paige’s cat collection. Touching them elicited purring sound and vibration, plus entertaining yowls and mews. The project was a total hit, appearing in a “ten best art pieces” article. Here are some pics of the build, the truck that took them to the playa, and finally a video.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_9e0-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aad-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Paige with a paper-maché form we built, Wes Skinner mounting a heart support bracket, while I zip-tie speaker wiring in place.

vU2syTO1RUSJofBdsPGi1g_thumb_a93-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a4f-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Paige inspecting. She wore that shirt the whole summer while working, and there *may* be enough left for framing.
Right, All electronics packed and strapped in, ready to put on the truck.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a8e-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

On their way to the playa.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a90-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Saturday, just before the general admission opened. All ready for the week ahead!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a99-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Here they are at night! Check out to see how they actually look and sound!

Alas, I had to miss the final build on the playa. On my way up (via our cabin in Lassen) the water pump blew in Mz Parker. I limped the final 25 miles to the cabin, started tearing the engine down to remove and replace the water pump…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a76-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a3c-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

…and discovered that the water pump (right photo, black thing in the center) body extends underneath the timing belt cover (gray thing on the right). Requiring removal of the exhaust system, exhaust manifold, timing belt cover, belt and sprockets. At that point, I called a tow truck, and found a good shop down in Chico do to the surgery. So instead of arriving on Tuesday, five days early, I didn’t get there until Saturday, just before it opened.

(The three day adventure in Chico was a whole experience of it’s own — I arrived too late to rent a car, hiked most of the way across town to one of the last hotel rooms available, lived out of a small backpack for a couple of days, and finally borrowed a Westy from the shop to go back up to the cabin while they finished the work.)

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a78-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a84-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Saturday I headed east early, through Chester and Susanville, took my 66-mile dirt road shortcut from Susanville to Gerlach, and arrived midday. The Purr Pods were all set up, so all I could do was set up camp, and pull out several liters of frozen margaritas for my camp mates.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_ab8-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Art work was fabulous this year. Here is the Shrine of Sympathetic Resonance, made of piano innards and full of sacred geometry. Absolutely beautiful, full of thoughtful feelings and soft sounds.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_ab5-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

The Folly was another wild building full of amusing surprises. It burned at midnight on Friday, and here you can see the fire tornadoes spinning off the huge blaze.

You want to know what it’s like out there in the middle of the night? Here is short video. And more photos.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a85-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a8b-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Our friend Kelly, who borrowed Jen’s bike and made it look cool.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aae-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a8f-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a65-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a9b-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

The Temple of Direction, an incredible mechanized Pegasus in Center Camp, another view of the Shrine of Sympathetic Resonance, and an interactive light tent that drew lots of visitors.

My eight days were a curious mixture of freedom and loneliness, pleasure and service, with a liberal sprinkling of tequila, music and laughter. It was my first burn without Jen, so most of my experiences were solitary. It always takes me a little time to settle into myself when traveling solo, even surrounded by friends and familiar faces. By my third day, emerging from the Westy at dawn, I realized that it felt like I’d been there for a year. Perhaps our nomadic selves are never far away; I’ve had this feeling on backpacking trips as well.

The serendipity of Burning Man is always astounding — a friend of a friend camped with me in a tent, and somehow I knew when she was driving up, walking right out to greet her, even though I had never met her before and had no idea what kind of car she had. I did a lot of energy work and massage that seemed to be just what was needed, and had many amazing and deep conversations with strangers that illuminated both of us in profound ways. That’s the magic of the playa.

I love VW Bus Camp, and our pop-up village of self-sufficient iconoclasts. Unlike many camps, we have no shared infrastructure or dues (though someone did bring a very artistic shower device for all to use!) We had the Leopard Lounge set up again this year, a place of music, tequila and foot rubs. I spent time there each day, socializing, resting, doing energy work on visitors and soaking up the spontaneity.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a9e-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

Here is another little video. Eric is playing Johnny Cash, Bingo handing out tequila shots, and a crew of volunteers play percussion and give foot rubs.

By Saturday, I felt complete, so I packed up camp and headed west across the desert at midday. Dusty, happy, unshaven, thoughtful and full of feeling. I will be back next year, this is too good to miss.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aa4-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg I3p79A6vQuCiXcp7qNYMNQ_thumb_a91-2019-09-19-17-15.jpg

westy guts, part I

IMG_2874-2018-09-30-15-22.jpg

I like fixing things, especially vehicles. So perhaps it’s no surprise that we own a 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia camper, a vehicle known throughout mechanic-dom as a labor of love. “Mz. Parker”, as she is know, is not an unreliable vehicle, she’s simply a self-contained mobile living space with plumbing and electrical issues. Westfalia ownership requires as much inner journey as outer journey — and by inner journey, I mean exploring both her innards, and my own. Why do I enjoy working on her so much? For there seems to be a Law of Westy Conservation:

For every mile traveled, you shall spend either $1 or 1 minute of your time working on your Westfalia.

First, the journey into her innards. Mz Parker carried us well to Burning Man, however, several “issues” became apparent on the trip. The worst was the taillights, which…just went out. Knowing law enforcement at Burning Man, we carefully traveled only by day, and when we were forced to arrive after dark, we sneakily drove internal roads through Black Rock City to avoid the overabundance of Nevada sheriffs patrolling the outer road. They are well known for pulling you over for any slight infraction, and inspecting your vehicle with dog-sniffing exhaustive thoroughness.

There’s more. At freeway speeds, she started misfiring at full throttle, and would lose fuel pressure (thank you, extra gauges!) Plus, the left speaker went out, there is a constant buzzing in the rear speakers, the heater fan blows a fuse whenever we try to use it, and part of the dashboard illumination isn’t.

ScreenShot2018-09-27at1.32.09PM-2018-09-30-15-22.pngGiven our experience with her, it’s remarkable that the German’s ever figured out how to make reliable vehicles. Granted, this particular 33-year-old has been bastardized by several generations of prior owners. For the fuel problem, I did a full day of research, sighed at the results, then ordered a pile of parts which will arrive tomorrow (I’ll write about that adventure in Part II). Meanwhile, I’m googling wiring diagrams, and indeed, some kind soul has posted them.

The reality of the dashboard is nothing like this neat diagram, as shown in the top photo. After two hours, I have:

  • mostly disassembled the dashboard
  • performed surgery to remove 20 pounds of unneeded electronics
  • found and fixed the cause of the speaker outage
  • found the source of noise in the rear speakers, they run by the fuel pump, harder to fix
  • found and fixed a broken connection to the driving lights, disassemblling the front grill & dropping the spare tire to get under the car
  • become certain I need to replace the heater fan
  • come nowhere closer to figuring out the taillight problem

IMG_2875-2018-09-30-15-22.jpg

The surgical extraction was interesting. Our Westy came with a DVD player mounted in the roof of the cabin, apparently wired into the stereo to provide four-way sound. In 1998, this was a pretty cool thing, but these days, it’s about as handy as kerosene running lights. The amount of electrical plumbing was astounding, so I decided to simplify our lives before proceeding deeper into the tangle of smoke-filled wiring. One DVD player, THREE control boxes and about ten yards of cable later, the DVDectomy is complete. By the way, we never could get the thing to work in the first place.

The heater fan replacement will require me to completely disassemble the dashboard, and remove the heater box. There is a great YouTube video by a professional mechanic, where he does the entire removal in 40 minutes. It’s gonna take me longer. This is a Serious Operation, so I’m putting it off for the moment…and ordering a replacement fan.

 

IMG_3728-2018-09-30-15-22.jpg

Having no other option for the tail light problem, I did what I probably should have done first, and took the tail lights apart. Eureka! I mean, Ick! Cracks in the lens let in water, there is a ton of corrosion in the light sockets, and sure enough, both tail lights had bad connections. One of them was so rusted into place I had to remove the bulb in pieces with penetrating oil and pliers, just to find the socket was irreparable. Off to Ebay, to buy a used replacement. In fact, I’m getting all new parts and bulbs. And super-bright LED backup bulbs, which should make it a lot easier to back into a camp site. And LED headlights. The technology has come a long way since 1985. Of course, so have I 🙂

Or have I? Ah, the other inner journey…why do i think this is fun and fulfilling? There is a clue in how I feel about different vehicles. When I was young and limitlessly enthusiastic, I owned Austin Healy Sprites, and did everything for them — frequent carburetor adjustment, electrical repairs, an engine rebuild — with joy and abandon. These tiny sports cars represented fun and freedom, and I gleefully went on trips all over California with a backpack full of camping gear stuffed behind the seats (and 50 lbs of tools and parts in the trunk!) Working on other cars isn’t the same, they are transportation with character, not quite the same projection screen as my early adventure-mobiles. To be honest, our 2001 Jeep Cherokee is a pleasure to maintain, as it is a tough, solid, go-anywhere truck, both comfortable and reliable. But the Westy (and my motorcycles) get most of my attention, and now I know why.

A Westfalia is one of the smallest self-contained living spaces in existence, and it’s mobile. I have friends from our Burning Man camp who travel for weeks and months and even years in their Westy, in some mystical symbiotic relationship. I love being able to take off in Mz. Parker, with Jen or solo, ready to eat and sleep in comfort pretty much anywhere we end up. The thrills of variety and exploration truly nourish my soul.

Motorcycles do it too, as I went on many long trips on my BMWs, with full camping gear, all over the US in my 30’s and 40’s. Since damaging my wrist by logging far too much time on computers, I haven’t been able to spend long days in the saddle like I used to. However, I can now see travel and adventure are a theme in my life, and I’ve always found ways to explore new places.

Mz. Parker is the latest vehicle for exploration. So it’s not all about “fixing things” for me. It’s about enabling the journey. I love working on vehicles I have adventures in. Good to know. I have some vehicles to get rid of. Why not just focus on what I love?

60 autumns

IMG_2871-2018-09-22-09-25.jpg

I’ve recently turned 60, no longer working for companies, and getting used to all this freedom to do exactly what I want. It’s a little disconcerting how often I look for ‘what I should be doing’. What do I truly enjoy, what feels fulfilling? And why did I wait so many years before seriously asking myself these questions?

I actually quit working two years ago, but it’s taken time for me to fully realize that I’m free at all times to do what I wish. There was never a ‘decision to retire’, it just sort of crept in, a more body-based and receptive process. My mind may be wrestling with all this freedom, but my heart and body revel in it. Once upon a time, I believed (like most in our culture) that my intelligence, consciousness and awareness are mental, however I now realize that my mind is just a part of who I am, and it often gets in the way of true awareness and fulfillment.

My professional ego — the part of me that identifies as a software architect — is dissolving, leaving enormous room for new things. I don’t miss the grueling software projects, the countless meetings, the long hours, or having to read continuously to keep up with technologies. Now I get to read what I want, do what I want, learn what I want. My curiosity has become my guide, allowing me to study energy work, plant medicines, and corners of natural sciences I’ve neglected for decades. Jen and I helped build our camp at Burning Man this year, and early arrival gave us much more time to visit our friends and neighboring camps — without being on a tight schedule defined by vacation days. We also got to spend 9 days on the Playa, in our very cozy and cool campsite.

PastedGraphic-2018-09-22-09-25.png

What could we call this stage of our lives? Some of us find this internal freedom much younger than I. Retirement is an outdated concept. Our culture has no modern model for maturity, or we are just starting to create one.

I am not bored. Oh, no! Projects surface regularly. For example, since 1993, I’ve been one of the administrators of ibmwr.org, an amazing repository of BMW motorcycle knowledge. The email lists support thousands of BMW bike fans all over the world, there are 200 tech articles — and I don’t know how many trip reports — scattered on this site. It’s a nexus of BMW motorcycle geekdom. The original site was pure HTML, a monument to the early days of the internet, and an incredible maintenance headache. I recently spent six weeks rebuilding it in WordPress. I took on the project almost by reflex, and somewhere along the way, realized that I loved creating the new site. Compared to what I did for a living, the work was dead easy. My pleasure is in the results and the service to a huge community, not the mental process and problem solving along the way. What a deep shift.

Really, I feel like I’ve returned to my early 20’s, when I had far less sense of who I am. I’m planning more travel, and I’m enjoying taking care of our home and it’s half-acre of oak forest, the cabin near Lassen National Park (where I’ve been hanging out for a few days), and our various vehicles. I remember the thrill of rebuilding my first engine, and now cheerfully refurbish the fuel and electrical systems on our 1985 Westfalia camper. My enthusiasm for all things mechanical is returning. Plus it makes more sense for me to do vehicle maintenance than pay someone else to do it 🙂 This photo from a road trip in my youth really captures how I feel.

AustinHealyCamping1979color-corrected-2018-09-22-09-25.jpg

The best part is, I rarely need to hurry. And I have much more time to notice the small things that make life so rich. Stacking an oak wood pile at Lassen, I notice the glistening beauty of sap on a nearby tree.

IMG_2856-2018-09-22-09-25.jpg

This expansion takes many forms, including casual exploration in the moment. A huge resounding BOOM shatters the quiet. Our neighbor’s small cabin carries hidden drama. Check out the tree behind the cabin, a massive sugar pine. Now notice the foot-long pine cones in the second photo. Can you imagine being inside this cabin when one hits the metal roof? I nearly jumped out of my skin, though I was a hundred yards away. A second look at the roof, and I see a hundred big dents. Glad I don’t live there!

IMG_2864-2018-09-22-09-25.jpg IMG_2865a-2018-09-22-09-25.jpg

After all my wood pile work, there is a ton of bark and slash to burn off in the campfire circle. And I smile at the irony of:

IMG_2868-2018-09-22-09-25.jpg

My days have a richness I have seldom experienced before. There are more new places, and more time in nature ahead, I can feel it. I wish our language had a word for this transformation.

reboot

PastedGraphic-2018-05-10-17-20.png

I’m just home from a ten-day retreat, trying to comprehend fundamental changes in my being. The short story is: I’m eight pounds lighter, my taste in food has changed, I eat differently now, my sense of smell has gotten better, I’m sleeping solidly and I’m fully rested after seven hours. I’m really liking my new life. I’ve been rebooted.

How this happened…I blame my friend Karla, who has been an incredible body worker and source of kindness in my life for many years. Karla’s dream has been to create a retreat center, and not only support our mutual buddhist practices, but create a place where people can make fundamental healthy changes in their lives. Over the last two years, she has created the Alive Retreats experience, and held her first retreat starting April 30th at the Leonard Lake Retreat Center, near Ukiah, California. We’ve just emerged back into our normal outer lives, realizing that the impact of the ten days runs very deep indeed.

Basically, we ate a lot of green food, most of it raw, all vegetarian and alkalizing. At first, I was less than enthusiastic, but my trust (and Jen’s enthusiasm) carried me along. After a couple of days, I realized that I liked most of what I was eating, and I was discovering a whole new world of delicious salads and dressings that did not contain vinegar or oil. No caffeine, no dairy, no sugar, little fruit, no bread or flour…it was much easier than I expected. Energy Soup is now a staple in my diet — really one of my favorite things to eat! — and is quite easy to make. Just throw the following stuff into a blender:

  1. 1 carrot, washed, not peeled
  2. 1 avocado, minus the pit and skin
  3. 1 tbsp miso
  4. ¼ onion or 1 green onion
  5. 1 clove garlic
  6. ½ cup fresh parsley
  7. ¼ cup lentil spouts or pea shoots
  8. 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  9. 1 wedge meyer lemon, including the skin
  10. 2 tbsp dulce or other seaweed
  11. 1 tbsp of flax oil
  12. Additional herbs and spices of choice, oregano, basil, cilantro, etc.
  13. 1 to 2 cups water, sufficient to blend
  14. Serve with a sprinkling of sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds

We also learned how to prepare most of the food we were having. Many things, like salad dressings and soups, come right out of a blender. We learned how to sprout seeds and beans, ferment vegetables (for those of you who like sauerkraut, it’s a cinch), make juices and teas. Hummus and raw seed crackers were big favorites, along with the afternoon juice breaks and banana ice cream one night.

The location was a stunning place in the redwoods, with a big freshwater lake, canoes and kayaks, miles of trails, well-maintained houses, and a wood-fired sauna. In early May, we had some rare orchids and many wildflowers, plus beautiful weather. Here are some photos…the lake, a calypso orchid, and Jen holding up some trees.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_62d-2018-05-10-17-20.jpg UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_610-2018-05-10-17-20.jpg

i9qEVZrRBqLonHlbcGJhw_thumb_629-2018-05-10-17-20.jpg fiiTBjGGSIWgNBuQLhFJw_thumb_639-2018-05-10-17-20.jpg

The sacred learning is this: I used to eat until I felt full, now I eat until I feet nourished. This is a really big deal, as my whole relationship with my body has changed. I don’t think I had any idea what it felt like to be well-nourished. Now my body has a new voice, I am unlearning a lifetime of eating habits and working my way down to a more healthy weight. I’m excited to finally have a way to do this!

There are two more retreats planned this year, a five-day experience this summer and another ten-day one in the fall. If you are ready for a change, I highly recommend it!

chöd

Photo-2017-07-11-18-12.jpg

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.

Photo2-2017-07-11-18-12.jpg

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

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.

thai high

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.

1__@__Attachment-2017-06-25-04-47.png

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?

2__@__Attachment-2017-06-25-04-47.png

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.

Attachment-2017-06-25-04-47-1.png

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.

Attachment-2017-06-25-04-47.png

Central Buddha in a Wat (temple) under repair

solo journey

Attachment-2017-06-22-10-26-1.png

All packed 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.

Attachment-2017-06-22-10-26.png

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.

enzed

ScreenShot2016-02-28at12.03.23AM-2016-02-28-00-06.png

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.

P1070186-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg P1070185-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg

P1070343-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg P1070254-2016-02-28-00-06.jpgP1070431-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg PanamalunchinNelson-2016-02-28-00-06.jpgLakeManapourirainbow-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg  IMG_1473-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg

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!)

IMG_1483-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg IMG_1493-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg P1070455-2016-02-28-00-06.jpg

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?

returning home

wpid-ThereconfiguredcaravanleavingGrandRapidstrimmed-2014-08-23-18-15.jpg

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 four and a half days. I drove 600 to 800 miles each day, except for the final leg from Reno on Saturday, when I got home about 1:30 in the afternoon.

Preparing for the trip, I had too many boats. It was possible to carry two kayaks and a canoe on top of the boat trailer and the Jeep, but not desirable. And I really had no place to use a fast, slender, tippy wood canoe in California; that’s a vehicle for Algonquin territory. Fortunately, my friends Urs and Verena wanted one, love canoeing, and so it’s now tucked away at the Mirror Lodge. And I have a great reason to return.

wpid-UrsandVerenawiththecanoe-2014-08-23-18-15.jpg

It’s been something like 18 years since I’ve driven this far away, and there were a few surprises about the trip itself. One is learning all over again how wide the corn belt is. Half of Illinois, all of Iowa and most of Nebraska, something like 800 miles of pure cornfields. The other surprise was encountering 33 construction zones along the way. Michigan alone had 11 of them, and my friend Brian’s daughter Katie told me “Michigan has two seasons, winter and construction”. Boy, was that the truth. I had to deal with three severe detours and several 30-mile stretches of single-lane traffic because of all the roadwork. At least the work suggests that our economy is improving, and that we are investing in our infrastructure as a nation.

I was surprised to see wind farms in every single province and state. Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, and of course California. Energy was a theme for this trip, there were signs of the energy economy everywhere.

wpid-WindfarminNebraska-2014-08-23-18-15.jpg

There were trains too, both heading east and returning home. I must have seen a thousand oil tank cars in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, and more coming home through Wyoming. Fracking is a huge industry. This is eastern Wyoming, climbing into the Rockies at 6000 feet, just one of the 50-odd trains I saw on the trip.

wpid-AnothertrainineasternWyoming-2014-08-23-18-15.jpg

Overall, the trip was flawless, the Jeep was rock-solid, the weather was fair, there were no problems bringing the boats across the Canadian border, and…I didn’t get any speeding tickets. The Jeep never even needed a quart of oil. Amazing. What a great vehicle (Jungians, you can smile here. Jen and I bought the Cherokee together; it bodes well for us 🙂 Here we are on the Bonneville Salt Flats on a rainy day.

wpid-Bonnevillesaltflats-2014-08-23-18-15.jpg

For much of the trip home, I was musing about solitude and overview. The journey out with Jen was connected and fun; a shared adventure that was never boring, spiced with both silence and great conversation, ease and spontaneity. Travel home was completely solitary, except for my first night with friends in Michigan, and the people I met in gas stations and motels and restaurants. The huge vistas invite reflection. I spent a lot of time considering and meditating on various parts of my life, relationship patterns, how we bond in partnership and marriage with another, and the qualities of that bonding. I’ve gained an almost visceral understanding of how we connect with the people we love. Tibetan meditation teaches how to notice a thought or feeling, and rather than dismiss it (Therevada) or bring compassion to it (Mahayana), just become still with it and let it flower and deepen and inform us of it’s truer nature. I had 50 hours for such contemplation, and took advantage of it.

I loved Nancy deeply, and I don’t doubt that she loved me as well. But I never really felt loved, our relationship was more competitive and fraternal than well-joined and respectful. We bickered, it was not good, I’m accountable for that as much as she. It’s a pattern we finally broke only a few months before she passed away. There is a fine book, A General Theory of Love, that discusses bonding theory, and I read it after Nancy was gone. Quite illuminating. I don’t think she learned how to bond well at an early age. Not her fault, it just is. But I’m happy to be engaging in relationship with someone who can connect like I do.

More generally, I’ve been feeling deeper into samsara, the way that we create our own pain and misery through attachment. Attachment is joyous for those of us who do it well, but it’s ultimately painful, as we always eventually lose whatever we are attached to. I built a lovely house and home with Nancy, and now she is gone, and one day the house will be gone too. I love Jen quite profoundly, and one day that will also end. So the blessing and curse of incarnation is attachment.

Enjoy it while you can. I love my house, I love Jen, I love the journey. It all ends. Love now.