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.

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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

solo journey

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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.

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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

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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.

there comes a time

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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.

life in a shopping bag

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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.

on bonzos and memory

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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.

enzed

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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?

penny is gone

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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.

weapons and trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ttitd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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