Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

And since the weather has a mind of it's own, not easily influenced by me...let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

We had a juicy ice storm last week, and here in New England there are still thousands without power. We usually get hammered with these storms but this time we lucked out and were just outside "the swath." It was particularly fortunate since our sump pump has been engaging several times an hour for the last nine days. Yes, I am glad that we bought a generator four years ago; it gives us a bit of peace of mind during these storms. We didn't need it this time, but some friends were grateful that I set it up for them and pumped out their basement.

They were a bit red faced since they were so pleased with themselves that they had planned ahead and had a backup pump to their primary sump pump. They hadn't anticipated a total power failure to their home. I learned from their experience.

This has given me an opportunity to think about a few things which I have come to consider as part of my shoveling-out process and storm preparedness strategy. Here are a few of them; consider them both as a way of making things easier and also as "insurance" for the unexpected.

1. Do yourself a really big favor and go out and buy one of those shovels that has a crooked handle. They look foolish but my, oh my, are they kind on the back. They also have a long handle which is great for just leaning on for when it's time to take it even slower and listen and feel the silence and the snow and the breeze.

2. For apparel, make sure that you have a heavy coat which goes 1/2 way down to your knees. The outside of the coat must have something that blocks the wind and doesn't let the water in, nylon is fine. Most of the time you don't need this type of jacket but when you do, it is indispensible. As always, remember it's the wind not the temperature that will usually do you in.

3. There is no big rush with snow shoveling. Take it easy. Usually everyone thinks you do that to not overtax your heart and/or to not be as stiff the next day. But there is a further reason for pacing yourself, and that is to not build up a sweat. The exercise helps to heat, but the excess will lead to sweat and that in turn will lead to a chill. If it is really challenging outside and you have to be out there for some time, having a chill is not a good idea. Remember also, no cotton next to your skin.

4. Find your closest fire hydrant and shovel a path into it so the fire fighters will have easy access in a dire situation. It's everybodies job to do that, so you can be certain that no one will do it if you don't.

5. Buy a pair of cleats or grippers that can slide over your boots. My driveway is fairly steep and there have been times when I wouldn't have been able to get to my car if I didn't have cleats on. That goes also for getting to the woodpile during an ice storm. Our comfy home is kept comfy by the wood stove. Stove needs to be fed dry wood. You get the picture. Think worst conditions and you get the idea.

6. Have a pot of soup and some artisinal bread waiting for when you come back in from the outside if you really want to make it an event. Oh yes, worst conditions, go out and buy several cans of sterno. They store for years and can easily heat up soup, etc.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Addendum: Obviously the 7th suggestion is to have a portable generator. And in the spirit of "insurance" and "making things better" buy a pair of over-the-ear noise reducers. They are much more helpful than the small plug into your ear gizmos and offer better protection to the hearing apparatus. Remember, you only get one hearing system per lifetime - use it wisely.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Necessary Listening

I've heard that there has been some turbulence in the world economy recently...giggle, giggle.

Do yourself a really big favor and listen to this interview of Nassim Taleb by Charlie Rose, recorded on December 3.

Once you hear his discussion of the economy and "the turkey" and probability statements, you will irrevocably understand how we are fooled by the stock market over and again.

His real contribution is, however, more general than "the economy;" it is that improbable events play a significant role with massive consequences in all of our lives, individually and collectively. We are fooled by our tendency / need to focus on pattern recognition to give us the semblance of stability. The "trick," I think, is to widen the pattern on which we are making our predictions. As he says, it is unwise for a pilot to not expect storms.

It's all part of the process.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Shouldn't Life Be Easier?

That was the question, asked rhetorically, by a man who was reflecting while on a ledge slightly below the precipice above the valley of depression. He had recently found himself on that ledge and was surprised that he was there, but more so, he was freightened. Freightened that he might move un-voluntarily into that valley where he had been once before.

What would you offer in response if you were there?

When he was receptive here's some of what I said.

I don't know if it should be easier or not; maybe yes, maybe no. But I do know that when you are in the midst of "a depression" that you lose (easy) access to recollection of the easier times. Because of that it sometimes makes it feel that everything has always been hard, tough. It has a way of also discarding positive recollection in a variety of ways. For example, it can discount the reality of what happened. And knowing that, it can help to recollect some times when it was easier. That can help; that can help a lot. Remember that it is a skill that has to be developed while in the valley.

It also plays the other way. By that I mean that when things are going well and ideally when you are in the "flow," that recollection of the depressed state seems foreign and distant. It's not exactly like that, but it's like that.

Maybe it's a little bit like a bow tie. You have this connection in the middle which connects the two bows. One bow wants to just do it's own thing and to perpetuate itself. Guess what, the other side also wants to do the exact same mirror image thing.

Addendum: A voice with some experience with both the depression thing and the flow thing, thinks, however, that the "bad" bow is sometimes, maybe almost always, more heavily weighted.

My input is that anyone who has ever been in the throes of a significant depression will line up with that comment. But across time balance is of the essence. Just as the universe seems to wobble and at times seems to be favoring one end of the spectrum or the other, if you look at it across time, things find their balance. There tend to be as many sunrises as sunsets but personal habits and acquired tendencies may lead us to favor one over the other.

Nature always gets the last word in.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Some Building Blocks

Purpose may be with us all the time but, if it is, it has proven to be, for me, frustratingly elusive.

But I have been able to assemble a few basic building blocks to help along the way.

1. Mindfulness and the frequent application of it throughout the day has to go into the foundation. It may actually be the mortar which helps the individual blocks to connect and "stiffen up" the process.

2. In the sitting practise I do in the morning I have been watching my thoughts come and go, meander, quicken, drop off, etc. I also watch how they make me feel, what moods they stir, what memories and associations cluster around them.

3. But more recently, I have been engaging in talking to myself. Yes, talking out loud. It shifts with time and recently I have called it a conversation. A conversation with myself. But to have a conversation there has to be another. So I have invited to these conversation others; other parts of myself - perhaps we could call them other selves.

At one point I invited my Guardian Angel to these conversations. The Guardian Angel in this sense (at least) is the representative / representation of that energy which acts as go-between between the visible world and the energetic world. The conduit, or the facilitator, or the bearer of messages between this packet of energy (moi) and the energy which moves through the universe, and through me. Perhaps the Guardian Angel is that which acts as the invisible hands which has guided me at pivotal points in my life by presenting options which weren't there previously.

It's like I create this space in which I'm just sitting there, aware, and carrying on a one way conversation. Maybe that's a kind of narrative in the making. I'll make a statement, a comment, or ask a question, or a series of questions. Emotion gets added to the process. And I sit back and watch what comes, what is presented.

I could call it a conversation with the other, the best friend. Interestingly it's with one at a time, not the "whole gang."

4. Over a period of time I have noticed that I have to go through a kind of developmental progression each time - and since I do my sitting practise in the morning - this has become a way of kickstarting my day.

After I get up, I'll have a cup of coffee and a small bite of something and then start "sitting." First comes just waking up. That's tricky because I feel awake already. The words get in the way. But there is a definite sense of "entering my body and entering the space around me." The sense of energy builds when this happens. Till then it's like I'm in a virtual world but then it transitions into a more real world beyond my body and my thoughts.

5. Sometimes the conversation follows. And I use "the conversation" to bring together what I have learned, what my values are, what I'm working on, what I want to learn and to express.

6. After that I have noticed that I have begun to listen for the first piece of information, the first nugget of the day, the first choice morsel of spirit. That then becomes a partial theme for the day. I ask questions about it. I wonder how "it plays." etc. I may share that with people during the day.

7. At the end of the day I do some reviewing and wonder if my day has amounted to something or if it was for naught. This review has become a benign whip which helps to motivate me to reenter my next day.

8. I suspect that "purpose" will be the focal point for my further activities during the day. I hope that it isn't a limiting belief in the sense that if I don't "find" it that there will be many more "for naught" days. When purpose clarifies then I will have a daily choice of whether to enter that sphere and act from within it.

The problem with "waiting for purpose" is that it can foster a habit of drifting, of not doing what can be done. I am now thinking that a better strategy is to act on what I/we know now and if we have knowledge which is important that it wrong to hold it back.

9. The expression from within and the connecting to without will be for the purpose of healing that which is within me and around me.

10. It comes back to me how this process of stepping into the world, engaging it, came about for me. Several months ago, during a particularly intense conversation, I was reminded of how when I was about 12 years old, I was complaining to my parents as we were driving somewhere not to my liking that "I didn't ask to be born!" and "this isn't living, it's just existing (as in killling time)." I think I was being a real prick, but I was also a screaming over how what was happening in me around me wasn't anywhere close to an authentic expression of who I was or wanted to be.

And in recalling that, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving to the universe for this existence and for this life and that I am choosing life and living and wanting to enter my space, the space around me and to make a difference. Voila - purpose.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Being and Doing

Except for the past three posts I have been inactive on this blog. I'd like to let you in on a little of where I have been during those intervening months.

It all started several months ago in the depths of Winter. I was really enjoying hunkering down and staying in the cave and close to the fire. I'd be doing this and that but mostly it was a time for going within, for delving, for conserving. It wasn't the time for projects.

Then when the winter ended I started my second year of work on my vegetable garden and enjoyed the planning, building the frames, building the raised beds, enhancing the soil, and finally planting the seeds. At the same time, however, I didn't feel the urge to start writing again. It's as if my body was moving forward and my mind was active, but my spirit was still taking its own sweet time coming out of winter's cocoon.

I was reflecting on my ongoing pattern of moving between periods of activity and inactivity. In the past it would be like feeling stuck to be followed by a burst of energy which would focus on one activity or another. Sometimes those times would be brief, sometimes prolonged. After the activity I would sometimes just drag myself home to collapse, as it were, and wonder where I had been and what I had done.

But this winter I reflected more thoughtfully on that pattern and came to describe it more as being followed by doing followed by being. You can see how mindfulness can be present in both sides of that coin, and when it is there, it enhances the entire process; it makes it more present and real. The activities were sometimes purposive in a goal directed way across time, oftentimes for many years at a stretch,sometimes just a latest flash in the pan.

In the past I would be upset with the not-doing part of the cycle. Now I'm more comfortable with experiencing it as being in a space where listening is more prominent. I used to want to be pulled towards something but now it doesn't seem as important; it will happen when it happens and in its own time. Of course during either end of the dance there are certain things which have to be done of a maintenance nature but the bigger pattern is with the flowing from poised within to the directing outwardly and then the return.

It is in this context that I started thinking (for the umpteenth time) about purpose. In mid-August I was again wondering / asking what was holding me back, what the blockage was, and out of the silence came an awareness - that I do not have a central unifying principle which could give me a focal point, something which would give me a way of looking at, comparing, exploring, analyzing, experiences, events, ideas, perceptions, etc.

On reflection I came to see that the "blind spot," "the incompletion" has been there all along, certainly during my entire adult life. I have taken on others perceptions, etc., but never my own "something unique to me" (at least in a visceral way of experiencing) manner. It might be described as what my "beat" is.

In spite of this, I have been aware of hard earned lessons over the decades. Each of these learnings has been vital for my overall growth and they have served as course corrections; pivotal in fact. As these things go, they mostly came out of my own pain which in turn was coming from a wrong minded perception of how the world was or how it was supposed to be. Heroes are flawed; They have their own agendas and your best interest is not central if it does not support their agenda; a sense of power which comes from someone else, or a group, is, or can be, fundamentally manipulative; I claim the right to make mistakes, but not repetitively; I will rush no more!

All of those learnings, and others, have helped to bring me back to a sense of self but they did not go to the central unifying principle. They have helped to prepare but they have not revealed that principle.

For example, The Good Life as espoused and written by the Nearing's led to exploration and discovery and as such has been an ongoing "project" - it could even shift into a lifetime project -but it is not the principle.

Let me say it again, the core statement of my life to date is that: I am lacking a central unifying principle.

At first this freightened me but then it excited me in the quest to open, to ask for, to decipher, to find, to become aware of that central theme. And along those lines, how have others discovered their purposes. Is it "given?" Is it discovered? Is it uncovered? Does it always happen?

Now when I think of my mantra "I will rush no more!" I see it as a tool, an attitude, a way of being and doing which also lays the foundation for freeing myself up.

To be continued.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Recent Dance With Pain

A week ago today my right leg was screaming. I had been having some previous twinges, some more intense, but mostly manageable, bearable. I had a recent evaluation which indicated that the hip was not involved and that the most probable diagnosis was either a pulled muscle in the groin or bursitis of the right hip, or both.

Well, three days later, at the end of the day the pain numbers kept ratcheting up and by 10 P.M. I simply turned to my wife and said: "you have to call the ambulance, now!" Whatever was going on, it was not right and the pain was continuous at that point.

The EMT's were great. They put an IV line in and gave me some Fentanyl which helped with the transport. They were focused, very helpful, asked all the right questions, and explained to me each step of the way what they were doing.

In the E.R. things seemed to be going fairly slowly, but at that point the pain had subsided to the point where I wasn't saying ow, ow, OW! over and again. Then the pain came back to the original plateau of "10" and that repeated several times for the next several hours.

Interestingly, as I recall it now, I never asked them to relieve the pain, or to do something about it; my primary comments were "Man this HURTS!" and what is causing this? At that point also, I wasn't freightened because my own assessment was that "I" was ok but my leg and maybe hip wasn't. Another way to say that was that the core of me was safe and well, but a peripheral process was in real trouble right then.

After several doses of a powerful narcotic (dilaudid), the leg started to quiet down. During that time I had a CT with contrast, and I later found out that many of the major nasties had been ruled out: i.e., broken bone, tumor, kidney involvement, deep vein thrombosis, etc. The diagnosis was still fairly vague but the recommendation was clear, admission to the hospital. No argument from me.

I was placed on morphine and started on another medication Toradol. Thankfully the pain subsided after about 2 days and I was able to back away from the narcotics. My sense is that the Toradol was very helpful as both a local analgesic and also a potent anti-inflammatory. The black box warning on the medication states that it in NOT to be used for more than five consecutive days so I knew that it would have to do whatever job it was going to do and either help to resolve the still undiagnosed problem or something else would have to be used.

The money seemed to be going towards a diagnosis of hip problem and that led to a cortisone shot into the hip. I was discharged from the hospital after a total stay of 4 days.

For now just two additional comments. First, in retrospect, I was amazed how rapidly the process of pain, effective immobilization, separation from my usual surroundings, some grogginess from the meds, etc., my world shrank. At one point I found myself sitting with my head down, and just rhythmically running my hand through my hair, all the while wondering where this was all going. My world shrank both inside and outside. Pain can do that to you. Immobilization can do that to you. It's hard to keep your attention on the horizon when your world shrinks. I will have to think really hard on the implications of that process for me and others.

Maybe another way of looking at that is that, thankfully, I / most of us don't have that much experience with intense pain. But based on my experience of those four days, I am aware that I need to learn all the lessons of that experience in that (thankfully) unusual-for-me state of pain. It will help to develop resources and "tools" for dealing with it in the future should the need arise.

Thankfully, I had a great roomate and we became great supports for one another. He has had much more experience with intense pain and his kind and supportive and understanding comments were as powerful as the medicine in some ways. Also, my family and friends were right there for me and the staff was almost uniformly excellent except for one nurse who was too invested in starch and efficiency.

Secondly, after the intense pain subsided, I was left with an apprehension over whether the pain would come back again. That's understandable, of course, and with each day, the nagging vigilance and the emotional vulnerability is subsiding, thankfully.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Get the Word Out - For Anyone Who Drives For Work And/Or Heats Their Home With Oil

This is off my usual topic lines, but the enormity of the oil problems in the near future as a result of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, must be looked at by anyone who chooses to look at and deal in reality. The time frame, depending on where you live in the continental United States will shift, but this posting from TheOilDrum outlines a dire scene over the next several months.

For those of us here in the North East, who are already concerned about the very real consequences of the price of heating oil and what happens if we have a praticularly nasty winter - well the thoughts are chilling.

For example, look at insight #5

Insight 5. One of the biggest refined product pipelines, Colonial Pipeline, is now reported to be shut down, because of lack of refined product input.

Colonial pipeline is one of the largest pipelines, with a capacity of 2.4 million barrels a day. It serves the Southeast and the East Coast.

(Apologies, but I tried to copy and paste the graphic into this posting but can't figure out how to do will have to go to the original posting listed above at TheOilDrim. I'd appreciate it if anyone can tell me how to do it back channel.)

Beyond all of this, I am glad that there seems to be a more coordinated and concentrated response by the citizens and agencies involved to all those who have been directly affected by Ike. Good luck and best wishes!

Finally, I have written about "what-if" scenarios in the past, but this material appears to have current and near future reality value...but may also be used as a template for considering how things develop across time to events with truly enormous implications.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memoriam: Of Love and Honor

Muriel Siskopoulos: 1941-09-11-01

"Birth, life, and death -- each took place on the hidden side of a leaf." Toni Morrison

For Muriel Siskopoulos, the birth side of that leaf presented itself on a fall afternoon in 1972. With an eight year old son and a five year old daughter already in tow, Muriel welcomed her twin daughters into the world. Born on September 11, 1972, the girls were named Laura and Terri. Every year on their birthday, Muriel would call the girls, in the order they were born, to wish them a happy birthday.

But on the girls' 29th birthday, September 11, 2001, the phone call never came.

Muriel Siskopoulos was probably like so many women we know. She was a mother and a grandma, 60 years old. She was working as a secretary just a few years from retirement. She didn't have to work, but she liked to earn a little more money so she could splurge on family members.

"She took shopping to a new level," said Mark Siskopoulos, her husband of 11 years. And by all accounts, her children and grandchildren were regular recipients of Muriel's beneficence. When she wasn't buying something for them, she was knitting something for them.

On the morning of 9/11, Muriel was at her desk in the offices of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, located between the 85th and 88th floors of the World Trade Center's south tower. At 8:46am, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower. Many in the south tower began to evacuate the building. Muriel was last seen boarding an elevator to leave. But she never made it out, because at 9:03am, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower between the 78th and 84th floors. In addition to the twins and husband Mark, Muriel was survived by son Thomas, 37, daughter Donna, 34.

To read the memorials to Muriel Siskopoulos is to glimpse devastating loss.

"It has been 2 years since I have last spoken to you and I am still unsure as to how I should feel." wrote daughter Laura, the older of the twins, on September 11, 2003. "Like Terri, how ironic it is that you were taken away from us on the same day you gave us life. I was waiting for you to call me last night to be the first person to wish me happy birthday, but that never happened...."

No one is ever prepare for sudden loss. And no one can accept when loved ones are wrongfully stolen from them. As much as the life of Muriel Siskopoulos reminds us of love, family, and a life fully lived, so too her death reminds us of the pain that loved ones endure when tragedy emerges. But Longfellow reminded us that the soul is enduring.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
and things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art; to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

So as we remember those lost on that awful Tuesday five years ago, let us remember Muriel Siskopoulos. And if you should light a candle today for those victims, light one for Muriel. And if you should say a prayer, say one for her family and friends who struggle on. And remember the plaintive call of those for whom lives were shattered, but whose hope ventures on.

Who else am I going to call when I am sick? Who else can you hang up on and still laugh about it? Who else can make you smile when you really don't want to? Only your mommy can get away with these things because she knows how to make everything all better.

No matter how old I get, I will always be your little baby (even if it is by 4 minutes).

I Love You and I can't wait to see you again. (Someone needs to make sure I am all ironed and my ponytails have little curls in them)

Forever your baby -


Colonel Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla (May 27, 1939 — September 11, 2001)

Born in Hayle, Cornwall, May 27, 1939, to a working-class family, Rescorla joined the British Army in 1957, serving three years in Cypress. Still eager for adventure, after army service, Rescorla enlisted in the Northern Rhodesia Police.

Ultimately finding few prospects for advancement in Britain or her few remaining colonies, Rescorla moved to the United States, and joined the US Army in 1963. After graduating from Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1964, he was assigned as a platoon leader to Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, Third Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Rescorla’s serious approach to training and his commitment to excellence led to his men to apply to him the nickname “Hard Corps.”

The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry was sent to Vietnam in 1965, where it soon engaged in the first major battle between American forces and the North Vietnamese Army at Ia Drang.

The photograph above was used on the cover of Colonel Harold Moore’s 1992 memoir We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, made into a film starring Mel Gibson in 2002. Rescorla was omitted from the cast of characters in the film, which nonetheless made prominent use of his actual exploits, including the capture of the French bugle and the elimination of a North Vietnamese machine gun using a grenade.

For his actions in Vietnam, Rescorla was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star (twice), the Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After Vietnam, he continued to serve in the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of Colonel by the time of his retirement in 1990.

Rick Rescorla became a US citizen in 1967. He subsequently earned bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees from the University of Oklahoma, and proceeded to teach criminal law at the University of South Carolina from 1972-1976, before he moved to Chicago to become Director of Security for Continental Illinois Bank and Trust.
In 1985, Rescorla moved to New York to become Director of Security for Dean Witter, supervising a staff of 200 protecting 40 floors in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. (Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter merged in 1997.) Rescorla produced a report addressed to New York’s Port Authority identifying the vulnerability of the Tower’s central load-bearing columns to attacks from the complex’s insecure underground levels, used for parking and deliveries. It was ignored.

On February 26, 1993, Islamic terrorists detonated a car bomb in the underground garage located below the North Tower. Six people were killed, and over a thousand injured. Rescorla took personal charge of the evacuation, and got everyone out of the building. After a final sweep to make certain that no one was left behind, Rick Rescorla was the last to step outside.

Rescorla was 62 years old, and suffering from prostate cancer on September 11, 2001. Nonetheless, he successfully evacuated all but 6 of Morgan Stanley’s 2800 employees. (Four of the six lost included Rescorla himself and three members of his own security staff, including both the two security guards who appear in the above photo and Vice President of Corporate Security Wesley Mercer, Rescorla’s deputy.) Rescorla travelled personally, bullhorn in hand, as low as the 10th floor and as high as the 78th floor, encouraging people to stay calm and make their way down the stairs in an orderly fashion. He is reported by many witnesses to have sung “God Bless America,” “Men of Harlech, ” and favorites from Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. “Today is a day to be proud to be an American,” he told evacuees.

A substantial portion of the South Tower’s workforce had already gotten out, thanks to Rescorla’s efforts, by the time the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, struck the South Tower at 9:02:59 AM. Just under an hour later, as the stream of evacuees came to an end, Rescorla called his best friend Daniel Hill on his cell phone, and told him that he was going to make a final sweep. Then the South Tower collapsed.

Rescorla had observed a few months earlier to Hill, “Men like us shouldn’t go out like this.” (Referring to his cancer.) “We’re supposed to die in some desperate battle performing great deeds.” And he did.


Muriel, I will call Donna and Mikey. Love, Tim

Addendum: Several things. First, I took these memoriams from websites I do not frequent but chose to use them because they expressed some powerful themes. I was originally going to put the New York Times obituaries in the posting but when I looked at the copywrite text, I saw that I would have to pay for their use, and that seemed just too terrible to consider. Their lives, especially in the manner of their last moments, well, it's just obscene to think that any would have to pay for that usage.

Second, I did not personally know Rick Rescorla, as much as I would have liked to. When I finished my sitting ritual this morning, the idea for this post came to me "in a gush" and both names came to me to be included.

I learned of Colonel Rescola through a good friend of mine, Dr. Carolyn Smith. She is a trustee of Oberlin College and during one of their trustee meetings, she was talking to the person next to her and it came up that she has done extensive work with survivors of trauma and 9-11 came up. It turns out that the person next to her was a pulitzer prize recipient, James Stewart. He took the opportunity to give her an autographed copy of his book about Rick Rescorla: The Heart of a Soldier.

I like to think the reason why both of these names came together in my mind this morning was that one of the reasons why he chose to re-enter the South Tower on that fateful morning was to try and bring Muriel out.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sketch 1 and 2: It begins...

Ok, here we go.

First and foremost, I made a copy of the 4 heads from Jana's drawing blog. I am sending her an email asking for her permission to reproduce her work here - nothing like the horse is already out of the barn...and by the way, Jana...

(Click to enlarge)

I will type out the writing on the page since by now you know why I tend to type everything.

At the top: To Paul, because I couldn't refuse his "please," and MojoMan for the encouragement, and Laura because you were looking forward to it also.

On the left: I printed these 4 heads - a cluster from soneone's sketching blog. I figured copying and sketching would be helpful ~ and I wanted to work on hair and hairlines.

Middle Right: these "blocks" are from an outline from a Triple A identification card (because the sense of a confined area seemed less daunting to me.)

Bottom right: This is my rendition of the head I downloaded. 1. I like the hair.
2. The jaw and mouth are "off" 3. And the mole and the jowl isn't even close.

The 2 drawings with #1 and #2 are "mine."



Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Seeing As Meditation, As An Invitation To Fresh Beginnings

I've been telling myself for years, many years, that I want to draw, to sketch, to express visually. And for years I find myself periodically also realizing that I haven't really done anything "to put 'real' feet under the wish, the intent.

Typically I will get into it again for a few days and settle in to do some drawing. I find that it takes time and I also experience a shifting of awareness; I don't want it to sound too "high falutin'" but it's like I go through a portal. Time shifts, focus increases, clarity is presented, subtle differences I hadn't noticed pop up one after another. I tend to be generally pleased by what happens and that encourages me to go further. But inevitably, to date, I stop after several days.

The goal, the wish, doesn't go away. The intent doesn't either. What does get lost, however, is the sustained action.

Once again, I'm back at it. This time I have become aware of one of the experiences which captures and excites my intent again. It's like I'll be looking at someone and I will notice a play of shadows, of textures, of tones. It excites the intent but it also reminds me of how I have not yet developed the easy facility to express that on paper. But, once again, if I don't start now how will I ever be able to progress towards that?

Yesterday I was in a book store and I came across a book which talked and demonstrated how to create your own drawing journal of scenes in nature. I only had a few minutes to scan it and I had the impression that the author / artist included a number of drawings from children and adolescents and adults who were new to artistic endeavors. I liked what I saw. I could see myself doing that.

As I was driving away I started saying to myself things like: "if they can do it, I can too." But the real content of my thought went to wondering where I / we get off track with these things. Yes, it's a skill, but if children and teenagers can do it, why can't I?

Then today as I was talking with someone who has difficulty remembering peoples faces, and how that creates enormous social anxiety at times, I remembered a quote from Frederick Franck about how no one really sees anything until they draw it.

I then reached out and opened one of his books: The Zen of Seeing: Seeing / Drawing as meditation and the first thing I saw was the following quote (in the context of his starting a drawing seminar with a new group of people in 1973):

" that first lecture I asked the rhetorical question Who Is Man, The Artist? and answered it by saying: He is the unspoiled core of everyman, before he is choked by schooling, training, conditioning until the artist_within shrivels up and is forgotten. Even in the artist who is professionally trained to be consciously "creative" this unspoiled core shrivels up in the rush toward a "personal style," in the heat of competition to be "in."

And yet, I added, that core is never killed completely. At times it responds to Nature, to beauty, to Life, suddenly aware again of being in the presence of a Mystery that baffles understanding and which only has to be glimpsed to renew our spirit and to make us feel that life is a supreme gift. Many years of preoccupation with Zen have kept me awake to the experience of this opening up of life.

I suddenly noticed that the strangers' faces in front of me began to look less strange. I was making contact, and encouraged by this rapport, I forgot my carefully hatched lecture and started to talk freely about seeing, about drawing as "The Way of Seeing," about something I called SEEING / DRAWING ( I coined that on that spot), and about this SEEING / DRAWING as a way of meditation, a way of getting into intimate touch with the visible world around us, and through it...with ourselves."

What a wonderful invitation to seeing, to fresh beginnings.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tea Leaves And The Shift to Spontaneous Mindfulness

Paul raised an important question in my last post about mindfulness. He was wondering if the process of being mindfull will be seen as a quick fix approach to stress. Short answer is: yes. Especially if it is seen as something to "do" in order to solve a problem. Or if it is used to temporarily give a person a quick break and then plunge right back into the ongoing events which are creating the problem.

And then someone (Bob) asked me how it can generalize such that it has more far-reaching effects beyond the several minutes of the "mindfulness minutes" exercise I suggested.

Here's my brief attempt at an answer. Consider tea leaves which are sitting in water. They are just there. But they are also changing the immediate area around them by, shall we say, sharing their essence with the water. Eventually that process will expand, with just a little movement to the entire pot of tea, even when the tea leaves are removed.

When I offered this idea, he spontaneously offered that he found himself being "mindful" of the water during a shower - without any formal attempt or suggestion to do so. He had been practising the mindful minutes "exercise" and could readily see how my explanation fit his experience, i.e., the moments surrounding the mindfulness minutes spontaneously spread without any effort or even awareness into other parts of his experience.

If I may, I like this explanation.

PostScript: I am not addressing the question of whether longer periods of mindfulness practise will create a different experience of mindfulness. Then we would have an interesting process of one word describing different experiences - but I suspect that both short "exposures" and longer periods of "sitting" are tapping into the same process.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Waking Up Falling Asleep Waking Up Falling Asleep

I was going to title this post: Mindfulness and Scatteredness, but a piece of a dream pushed it in a different direction.

Assembling the ingredients.

Ingredient #1: - a conversation with my Saturday morning friend, Ted. We were talking about how people find purpose in life, and then it shifted to one of his favorite topics - propaganda and how to help people to wake up to how they are being manipulated and then having done that, what to do about it.

He talked about doing a workshop or writing an op-ed piece. I suggested writing an essay in the style of Wendell Berry, one of his favorite authors. I talked about how if someone could organize 5 or 10 people who would all agree to write 3 articles for newspapers or give a workshop or two over the next two years, about how they have started to choose a life more based on values and relationship and quality of life rather than scurrying around and always trying to make a few bucks more to feed the consumerist addiction, that the potential impact for a community may be palpable. The stories would not be diatribes against the system but rather testimonies to a certain waking up and how the transitioning was taking place in their lives and what it looked like. (Let this ingredient sit in the background quietly percolating...)

Ingredient #2: Just before giftmas I took a questionairre which was part of a doctoral dissertation for the daughter of a friend of mine. I was happy to help out and the topic of mindfulness helped to increase my motivation to do it.

The survey took a total of about 15 minutes; as it turns out, a pleasant 15 minutes. The questions basically set the stage by asking if I, and the other participants practise any form of mindfulness meditation. Then it went on to ask a series of questions about daily experiences, mundane experiences, and the level of awareness and presence you experience during those times in a progression from never / sometimes / frequently / almost always type of progression.

For me it was like taking a test and finding out what your grade was right on the spot (although you didn't actually get a grade). The "test" was a reflection of how much the practise of mindfulness has generalized and migrated from periods of meditation to your day to day life.

Well an interesting thing happened. The experience of taking the survey "jolted me" in a very positive way. It "operationalized" mindfulness in very concrete terms and brought it to a position of immediacy in my day to day life - or at least in parts of it. Mind you I knew all of this before, and had experienced it times before, but this seemed more immediate. It was like it gave me ideas as to how to put it into effect more often.

The effect was to mobilize me to practising being present and alive, in my daily routines and actions and experiences. Being on vacation certainly made it more easy to be present, etc., but even after I returned to my office I found my ability to maintain it fairly easy. The experience of mindfulness is generally comfortable and as such it has a way of drawing you further into the practise. (Let this indredient quietly do its work of suffusing your environment over a period of a week or so.)

Ingredient #3: A dream fragment. I had a dream a few nights ago. In it several things happened and in one part there was a conversation going on between another man and myself. It was like we were both trying to size up each other, but I had the feeling that he knew something significant that I didn't know, and there was a recollection later that the conversation was around a person's purpose or "mission." There were a few other developments in the dream, and then it ended.

When I got up and started my day I had the good fortune to remember parts of the dream and also to know that there was something in this one which was trying to tell me something and I would do well to not too easily discard it. I set the intent of recalling more of the dream, and bits and pieces of it came back to me over the next several minutes.

The most interesting part was when I recalled that the other man said: "the real question is whether you can stay awake." And then I said to myself: "wow!"

I would have thought that a better question would have been: "once having awakened and then finding that you have fallen back to sleep again, how can you help yourself to wake up again?" But they are probably both equally important questions. (Let that ingredient act as a quickening agent.)

So here I am, on a roll. I've been thinking about "mission," caught on to an operationalization of mindfulness in day to day life, and have a question posed to me in a dream. As I like to say: "neat!"

What to do?

What came to me was to set in motion a practise which would address both questions, i.e., if I "fall asleep" (i.e., go on automatic pilot, go into trance, get caught in the web of mindlessness as manifested by all the addictions, and unthinking consumerism, multitasking, not paying attention, etc.), what can I do to "come to my senses," and if I am being mindful, attention, aware, awake, what can I get in the habit of doing to keep the pattern going. It's like a flywheel process; it takes a fair amount of energy / effort to getting it going, but the more it gains momentum, then the less effort is required to keep it going.

So I've been working with the following process which for lack of a better term I will call Mindfulness Minutes.

Here's the process in some detail and in an approximate sequence. But remember that this is simply an outline which can create an experience of mindfulness. Once you have practised it 5 or 10 or 150 or 1500 times it will become second nature and then you can invent and explore your own pathways and explorations to keep the flywheel of mindfulness going across time and across situations.

1. Set the intent to do it.
2. It may be helpful in the beginning to say: "this is a good time to take a break."
3. Clear a "space" so you can shift gears into being more aware and present. Typically the universal way of doing that is to bring your attention to your breath. Watch your breath; really become aware of it.
4. There is no effort to change anything about your breathing. It may want to spontaneously shift, and if so, bring mindful awareness to that, and let it happen - or not; either way be aware of the experience. Keep it fresh.
5. Whatever you become aware of bring your awareness to it. The second learned reflex during the mindfulness minutes is to not make any judgements about what you are aware of or experiencing. The strategy is one of watching and being aware without the need to label and differentiate. Even when you notice events being judged, evaluated, sliced and diced into favorite or unusual categories, "simply" let mindfulness be aware of the process without judging, labeling and differentiating.
6. You will probably become aware of events in your mind (images, thoughts, conversations) and your body (sensations, feelilngs) or in your environment. In every instance let yourself become aware of what is presently in, or coming into, your awareness. Let it be. Any effort to bring it forth or to push it away is not part of this exercise - except as, yet again, another opportunity to let mindfulness "be and do" its thing.
7. As you become aware of something, notice it, and let it go. It's like you are encouraging impermanance.
8. The "letting go" is without effort. The easiest way I have found to do this is to both bring attention to the event in experience and let the awareness bring you further into the experience and if you are not trying to hold on to it, it will naturally morph across time. Or, when you notice the sensation or the image, notice it and then on your exhale let your mindful attention go to the experience of exhaling.
9. Do this for a few minutes and then move back into whatever you had been doing or whatever the next thing is that you want to do.
10. Now that you have set the intent to do it, and have practised it, the next step is to set up some sort of feedback loop that reminds you at random times throughout the day to take that break. Whenever I walk in a particular corridor I take it as a cue to practise. I have done it when I walk through a door way, i.e., I take that as a reminder of the opportunity. I take a cue from a muscle in my neck; it it gets too tight, I use it as a reminder. The best is to come up with your own.

There is lots and lots more to this, but this is basic introduction that can get you started. Reading this may make it sound complicated, but it isn't. Just do it, or don't. If you do it, be aware not only of what you experience during the mindful minutes, but also what impact it has on you across time.

I would love to hear your comments about this.