Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Each person will become his own Buddha, his own Einstein, his own Galileo. Instead of relying on canned, static, dead knowledge passed on from other symbol producers, he will be using his span of eighty or so years on this planet to live out every possibility of the human, prehuman and even subhuman adventure."

Sounds good, except the author of the above quote is none other than Dr. Timothy Leary, and his practice for achieving enlightenment ultimately turned out to be counter-productive. Dr. Leary's theories and experiments on altered states of consciousness relied on external stimulants, and reliance on the external, in effect, is the opposite of becoming your own Buddha, your own Einstein, your own Galileo.

The American psychologist William James once said, "...our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different... We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation."

What were the stimuli necessary and sufficient to overthrow the domination of the rational and to open up the other "potential forms of consciousness?" Although Leary acknowledged that Indian philosophers and Japanese Buddhists have described hundreds of methods, William James used nitrous oxide and ether to stimulate the mystical consciousness, and Leary followed that path, leading to his famous experiments with LSD.

"To understand our findings," he wrote, "we have finally been forced back on a language and point of view quite alien to us who are trained in the traditions of mechanistic objective psychology. We have had to return again and again to the nondualistic conceptions of Eastern philosophy, a theory of mind made more explicit and familiar in our Western world by Bergson, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts."

At that time, Watts was addressing topics such as personal identity, the true nature of reality, consciousness, and the pursuit of happiness, relating his experience to scientific knowledge and to the teachings of Eastern and Western religions and philosophies. In 1957, he published "The Way of Zen," which focused on philosophical explication and history, but largely ignored the practical aspect of Zen, that is, the practice of zazen. In "The Book - The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are," he criticized "our tacit conspiracy to ignore who, or what, we really are."

Briefly, his thesis was that the prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with Western science nor with the experiential religions of the East. This hallucination of a separate ego self "underlies the misuse of technology for the violent subjugation of man's natural environment and, consequently, its eventual destruction."

In the early '60s, he began to dabble with psychedelic drugs, initially with mescaline and later LSD with various research teams at UCLA. Watts' books of the Sixties reveal the influence of these chemical adventures on his perception of the separate ego self. In 1962's "The Joyous Cosmology," he asks,

"Is it possible, then, that Western science could provide a medicine which would at least give the human organism a start in releasing itself from its chronic self-contradiction? The medicine might indeed have to be supported by other procedures - psychotherapy, "spiritual" disciplines, and basic changes in one's pattern of life - but every diseased person seems to need some kind of initial lift to set him on the way to health... Is there, in short, a medicine which can give us temporarily the sensation of being integrated, of being fully one with ourselves and nature as the biologist knows us, theoretically, to be? If so, the experience might offer clues to whatever else must be done to bring about full and continuous integration. It might be at least the tip of an Ariadne's thread to lead us out of the maze in which all of us are lost from our infancy."
And therein can be found the problem with his and Leary's inquisition into psychedelics as a way of self realization: the answer to understanding the self can never be found outside of the self, but only within. The Indian philosophers and Japanese Buddhists acknowledged by Dr. Leary, as well as the Buddha himself, were quite clear about this. There is nothing external to be sought, we are complete and whole, lacking nothing - perfect, immaculate. To seek a drug as a "medicine" to realize this assumes that something "out there" is required, and thus the seeker is off in the wrong direction, moving further from realization, not closer.

Back in the '70s, as the psychedelic culture of the previous generation began to self destruct, I would occasionally hear people say things like, "Oh, I don't need to use drugs anymore. I just practice meditation." Statements like that led me to assume that the experience of zazen was somehow similar to that of getting high. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. What these people were saying, in effect, was, "I've stopped looking outside of myself for answers. Now, I just look within."

We are all already our own Buddha, our own Einstein, our own Galileo, and when we finally use our own efforts and resources to see through the illusion of the distinction between self and others, one is then living out "every possibility of the human, prehuman and even subhuman adventure."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Be The Person You've Always Wanted To Be

"What. . . is to be expected from our pursuit of happiness, when we find the state of life to be such that happiness itself is the cause of misery? Why should we endeavour to attain that of which the possession cannot be secured?" - Samuel Johnson

In his novel "The End of the Road," the author John Barth argues that despite our protests to the contrary, we always do exactly what we want. Oh, we might think that we're doing things at times that we don't want to do, but all of our actions are ultimately voluntary, and we are merely doing something that we otherwise think that we don't want to do merely because it seems better that some alternative.

Case in point: we might think that we don't want to go visit some relatives or in-laws, but the truth is we'd rather do that than argue with family or spouse about it, or be perceived as someone who doesn't care about relatives or in-laws. Or conversely, we might think that we don't want to get into a fight with someone, but actually, we'd rather fight than comply with whatever that person is requiring.

And so on. If we examine ourselves, we're always doing exactly what we want.

The logical extention of this is that all of these choices lead us to be exactly the person that we've become. We are precisely who we want to be. You might have thought at one point that you didn't want to be, say, a homeless person, or in jail, etc., (or a reader of Water Dissolves Water), but if you look at the decisions you made that got you there, and accept that the behaviors were all voluntary - that you always do exactly what you want - then the logical conclusion is that you are, right now, right this very minute, the person that you've always wanted to be, doing what you've always wanted to do, and it has always been like this, forever.


"Do not suffer life to stagnate: it will grow muddy for want of motion; commit yourself to the current of the world." - Imlac

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"In a society that almost demands life at double time, speed and addiction numb us to our own experience. In such a society, it is almost impossible to settle into our bodies or stay connected with our hearts, let alone connect with one another or the earth where we live." - Jack Kornfield

Another day today at double time: up at 5, open the zendo at 6, in the office by 8, meeting with attormeys at 10:30, another meeting at 2, evening committee to discuss trails in the neighborhood park at 7:30, home again (finally) at 10. And somewhere in between all of that, complete some reports and reply to email in the office, argue over the phone with Delta about a ticket refund that never arrived, plan for tomorrow.

Where would I be without Starbucks? Where would I be without practice?

Throughout the day, reminders of our connections with one another: after grudgingly pulling myself out of bed and getting to the zendo before sunrise, there was no one there for whom to open. I lit the incense, rang the bell, and sat alone, wondering what I was doing there. But then I realized, isn't having people there for whom to open just another goal? And wasn't this morning an opportunity to explore what it feels like to practice early rising and service to others, but without the "others" as the goal? How many people would my ego need there to make my getting up early seem "worthwhile?" And what does that say about my motivations?

"Goals are dreams with deadlines." - Diana Scharf-Hunt

So I sat there quietly, content to be practicing, when first one, then two, cars pulled into the lot. Ah, the "others" have arrived.

At the community meeting on park trails, I was surprised to observe how strongly I held some of my own opinions, and how disturbing it felt when my opinions weren't being considered. Could I let go of these strong opinions, and what would that feel like? It turns out that it felt like finally hearing people for the first time this evening - listening rather than waiting for my turn to talk.

Exhausting day, and tomorow I get to do it, and more, all over again.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Let's Go Live

There are some people who come to the Zen Center looking refreshed and awake, happy to be alive and fully enjoying the moment in the here and now.

Those people know that enlightenment is not some other state, something yet to be obtained, a goal beyond their present selves. Their life is their practice, they see no difference between self and other, and they have given up attaining.

Those people know the "truth" isn't in words.

Those people don't need dharma talks.

Those people don't need "Water Dissolves Water."

So, to kill, as it were, two birds with one stone (just a figure of speech - the two birds are not separate things, and there is no "bird" and there is no "stone," there is only killing, as it were), for those people who don't need words, don't need dharma talks, don't need "Water Dissolves Water," I present . . .

More "Water Dissolves Water." Only now, live.

That's right, as promised yesterday, "Water Dissolves Water" is going live. Yes, I've opened up a new LiveJournal blog. Now, I can post my more "serious" and "deeper" thoughts here, while still leaving myself a space to kick back, free associate or just be absurd and act my shoe size, not my age (to paraphrase Prince).

For years, I've pretty much looked down on LiveJournal blogs. They seemed juvenile, shallow and superficial. "My favorite band is x. What's your's?" A forum for teenage girls to list their friends, and those who aren't their friends. Kid's stuff. Child's play.

But that's just an illusion, an association created by my mind (sort of like the image of the mermaid in the Magic Eye picture). Now that I've gone and set up a blog over there, I find the user interface more intuitive and easier to use, and the control over appearance far greater than here. In short, I kind of like it.

So here's the deal: I'm splitting my blog into two sites. Water Dissolves Water will contain my Zen musings, thoughts on the environment and some political content. Things like that. Water Dissolves Water. . . Live will be more personal, more immediate and more frank, and will babble on about my life, my tastes, and whatever else might be on my mind. And since LiveJournal handles graphics far better, it will be more, well, graphic.

For the record, I'm not maintaining the two blogs on a daily basis. Some days I might post to one, and the next day the other. Some days I may not post to either. But I will try not to leave either one alone for too long.

And who knows? Maybe someday the two dual blogs will merge back into one unity again.

I'm just not there now.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Coming Soon: Water Dissolves Water Live!

Some days, I stare at the blank Blogger screen and can't think of a damn thing to write about. Other days, like today, my mouth is so full of words, it's hard to get any one of them out for all of the others.

Topics that want to be talked about: more on vision, perception and the mind; right speech; synchronicity; the future of this blog.

Tribal chants and rituals; bowing; the Himalaya and the Karakorum; self defense; the woman I saw in Krogers the other day.

But first, what is a Zen blog? Just what would that look like? A lot of long boring lectures on theory and history? Musings about metaphysics that nobody's really actually experienced? A day-to-day journal on the varieties of my religious experience?

If I were to be really Zen, really in the here and now (which of course, we all are all the time - have you ever been there and then?), I would not try to capture in writing something I read about the other day, or thought of while driving home from work, but what was actually and literally on my mind at the moment of composition: What's for dinner? My nose itches. Who's going to read this? Why hasn't she written back yet?

No one wants to read that blog. Hell, no one wants to write that blog.

So there's inherently a certain amount of artifice in this process. On good days, I might ask myself, "What's the best that I can bring to whom I imagine is reading this?," and that might be something that I was reading about the other day, or something that occurred to me in traffic. Or something that I think might make you smile, or make you go "Hmmmmmm," or surprise you and thus undercut your expectations.

And some days I just give up, grant myself the permission to write something that's less than the very best that I can bring, and write about what interests me, and just hope that the patient reader bears with me (see the "What I've Been Listening to Lately" posts).

Anyway, I think I may have come up with a solution, based on the input I've received and backed by my own intuition. The solution seems to be to go Live.

Watch this blog tomorrow for an announcement of "Water Dissolves Water Live!" (how's that for a hook?)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Though a theoretical understanding of random-dot stereograms came only in the nineteen-sixties, they are akin to the stereo illusions described by David Brewster, the inventor of another early stereo viewer, as early as 1844. Gazing at wallpaper with small repetitive motifs, he observed that the patterns might quiver or shift, and then jump into startling stereoscopic relief, especially if the patterns were offset in relation to one another. Such 'autostereograms' have probably been experienced for millennia, with the repetitive patterns of Islamic art, Celtic art, the art of many cultures. Medieval manuscripts such as the Book of Kells or the Lindisfarne Gospels, for example, contain exquisitely intricate designs done so exactly that whole pages can be seen, with the unaided eye, as stereoscopic illusions. (John Cisne, a paleobiologist at Cornell, has suggested that such stereograms may have been 'something of a trade secret among the educated elite of the seventh and eighth century British Isles.')" - Oliver Sacks
Another lesson from Magic Eye pictures: everything the mind "sees" is not what the eye sees. The eye might "see" wallpaper with repetitive motifs, or intricate patterns in art, or, in the case of Magic Eye pictures, seemingly random dots. But the mind takes the raw visual input from the eyes, processes it, and then decides what it wants to "see." So, in my co-worker's Magic Eye image of a large-breasted woman, where was the image - on the page, or in my mind?

Several years ago, sitting in zazen for long periods at a Zen retreat, I was facing a wooden wall. After a while, the grain of the wood began to seem to wiggle and move, and all sorts of strange shapes began to emerge from the pattern of the wood grain. At times, the shapes looked like flames, at other times mountains and sheer cliffs, and at other times strange animal bodies and human torsos. The grain on the parallel boards in front of me were probably creating an accidental "autostereogram," similar to that observed by David Brewster. What I was seeing was not a "trick of the eyes" so much as a "trick of the mind," as the brain tried to reconcile the essentially two-dimensional input the eyes were receiving from the wall into a three-dimensional image.

Nor was it a "hallucination," an image created out of whole cloth by the mind. The mind was relying on the input it was getting from the eyes, it was not making up its own data to process. But since the input it normally got from the eyes was not an essentially static, flat image of wood grain on a wall, it was seeking new and different ways to interpret and process the input, lest it miss some important data on the surrounding conditions.

A similar thing happened to me in Alaska. After several days of backpacking with a friend, I set out on my own for some solo hiking in Peters Hills, essentially the foothills of Mount Denali. This terrain would most likely be called "mountains" anywhere else in the country, but in relation to Denali, which towered over them, they are termed Peters "Hills."

Anyway, I was up above the tree line, walking across more or less open tundra. There were no marked trails, because everything was so open and visible that it was always apparent where you were headed - Denali loomed before you, and the low country behind. If you want to hike toward Denali, there it was - just go toward it - what need is there for trails in such country?

But the sheer enormity of the landscape was unsettling to my mind. Denali was larger than anything I had ever seen standing by itself before, and I was not able to judge my distance from it. And with the lack of trees or anything else taller than myself around me, I soon found judging the distance to any object challenging. I felt like one of those natives of the densest rainforests, who have never seen anything more distant than about six or eight feet away, and who simply cannot perceive more-distant objects when first brought into a large clearing.

At one point, in a basin off to my right, I saw a small pond (or was it a large lake? I couldn't tell) and decided to walk to its shore. But I had become so unsure of my judgment of distance that even my depth perception began to wildly swing one way to another, and walking toward the pond I literally could not tell if it was a mile away, or if my very next step would splash in to it. Like in a dream where things move close and then suddenly far away, either option alternately seemed entirely possible to me as I gingerly took small, tentative steps forward, until I was able to actually touch the shore with my toe.

Disoriented, I hiked back to my car soon afterwards.

But meanwhile, back at the Zen retreat, my restless mind, bored with the great effort of hours and hours of zazen, entertained itself with the three-dimensional illusions it "saw" in the woodgrain. I could soon create whole murals in the wall, of strange Hieronymus Bosch-like creatures throwing dismembered torsos off of cliffs into lakes of fire below. But then the bell would ring, and I would suddenly snap back into the here and now.

Lest I be misunderstood, seeing strange visions in walls is not the object of zazen. It is not a "vision quest." The practice is observing that the restless mind, ever leaning toward that which it finds "interesting" or "fun," can go to great lengths to amuse and distract itself when bored, and that on an even deeper level, all that we think that we "see" is not what our eyes perceive, but how our minds interpret what our eyes see.

"The things we see are the mind's best bet as to what is out in front" - Adelbert Ames (1835-1933)

Don't be so sure that what you are "seeing" right now is that which is in front of you. It's all in the mind. As the Diamond Sutra concludes, "So you should see all of this fleeting world: a star at dawn, a bubble in the stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Magic Eye

According to the authoritative Oliver Sacks, random-dot stereograms, or "Magic Eye" pictures, are constellations of dots with no images that can be seen monocularly, but which reveal images or shapes when viewed with both eyes. This illusion may take some practice, and many people, even with normal binocular vision, are not able to "get it." But often, as one continues to gaze, a strange sort of turbulence appears among the dots, and then a startling illusion - an image, a shape, whatever - will suddenly appear far below, or far above, the plane of the paper. "Getting these illusions," Dr. Sacks writes,

"is the purest test of stereoscopic vision. It is unfakable, for there are no monocular cues whatsoever; it is only by stereoscopically fusing thousands of seemingly random points as seen by the two different eyes that the brain can construct a three-dimensional image."

These Magic Eye pictures were popular in the 90s, and I find the process of "seeing" the three-dimensional image quite analogous to Zen awakening. It requires some practice, and there's a bit of technique that goes along with seeing them - relaxing; looking at the image, but with the eyes not focused on the paper, but somewhere else; and allowing the image to emerge, to come to you. You can't "force" it.

I remember the first time I saw one. A young woman in our office had an 8-1/2 x 11 cardboard sheet with a seemingly abstract pattern on it. Several people looked at it, first holding the sheet near their nose then slowly moving it away, and then, all of a sudden, "Aha! I see it!," they would exclaim.

I gave it a try. I aped the same technique that I had seen, sheet first at the tip of my nose, then moved gradually away. But try as I might, I was not able to "see" the image that made everyone else gasp out loud.

Now this, unfortunately, is the state in which many new Zen practioners find themselves. They sit cross-legged, or kneeling on a cushion, facing the wall, eyes slightly open, head tilted down, counting their breaths as they breathe through their nose, but nothing happens. Some keep trying; others give up. And some try to fake it.

As I stood there in my old office, although I was unable to "see" the image, I did hear certain verbal cues from my co-workers that gave me a pretty good idea of what the illusion was like. "It's a woman!," one person announced upon perceiving the image. "She's got big boobs," she observed, and someone else added, "Yeah, really big boobs."

So I knew that it was a picture of a woman, I knew that the depicted woman had really large breasts, and I knew that the picture was observed in some sort of three-dimensional aspect. And although I had not myself experienced the illusion, I could very easily have, were I so inclined, taken the picture to others, taught them the "technique" for seeing the illusion ("first hold the picture close to your nose, then slowly move it away, keeping your eyes in soft focus"), and then confirmed with them whether or not they saw an image of a large-breasted woman. As I learned more and more particulars of the details of the image from those who were able to see it, I could even quiz my "students" to test if they had really seen the illusion, or if they were just faking it (like myself).

Not that I did any such thing. I never did see that particular illusion, but as the "Magic Eye" pictures got more and more popular during that decade, I was able to eventually see the images for myself, and not have to rely on the descriptions of others.

Sitting on the cushion, mind in deep samadhi, we occasionally have these similar "Aha!" moments, glimpses under the tent, as it were, of the nature of reality. But it takes time, it takes patience and it takes some technique. The technique can be taught, in fact, it has been passed down from the Buddha himself through 2,500 years of teachers and patriarchs, but the direct experience itself can not be taught. It must be experienced, realized, first hand.

The so-called "teachings" written in countless "Zen" books and the subject of untold numbers of lectures and talks, and even posted in this blog, are not the "experience" of Zen any more than the words "It's a woman with huge boobs" is the same as the actual experience of "seeing" the illusion. Put another way, as Shohaku Okumura once said, after years of studying academic Buddhism at the University, he got tired of "reading recipes," and wanted to taste the food itself.

So "teaching" Zen is nothing more than sharing the technique of meditation (posture, breathing, attitude) and encouraging the continuation of practice. And practice, as Dogen repeatedly stated, is enlightenment.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Adventuring News

A London Judge has dismissed the case against Henry Todd, John Tinker and Michael Smith saying there was no evidence anyone had acted with gross negligence in the 1999 Everest death of young Briton Michael Matthews.

Tinker, who was the commercial expedition leader, left his paying clients in the midst of the climb and went back home to UK, placing his outfit in the hands of a guide. Expedition clients soon complained that the new leader was violent and that their oxygen systems were malfunctioning.

On summit night, Michael Matthews, who climbed with private guide Michael Smith, suddenly lagged behind on ascent. After a late summit, Smith went ahead back to camp, which Matthews never reached. The family was told that a rescue party was being organized at a time when other climbers saw the expedition having a party in Base Camp and packing to go home.

The family brought the case to civil court already in 2003 driven by the lack of information surrounding their son's death. Michael’s father David paid for a private prosecution, claiming there had been insufficient safety briefings, that Smith had failed to keep Michael in his sights, and that the oxygen was faulty. Tinker’s insurance company soon settled the case. Although the family won, however, they had lost their wish to get the truth exposed. For that they were left only with one choice - to take the case to criminal court, an extremely difficult route. The family has been battling the case for six years, wanting to draw attention to avoidable dangers on Everest and in guided climbing.

Yesterday however, they again lost the chance to present the case to a jury. Judge Jeffrey Rivlin said that there was insufficient evidence for a jury to convict anyone of manslaughter by gross negligence and that the case was based on speculation. Michael's body was never found, and there is therefore no evidence where and how he perished, or if his oxygen system contributed to his death.

In 1999, expedition after expedition reported failing oxygen bottles bought from Henry Todd. "I tried six bottles before I found one that worked," reported one client. "One in three failed,” reported another climber that same year but in another expedition. Two climbers did not have any oxygen at all because their systems malfunctioned in Camp IV. A third expedition filed a report of oxygen fraud to the Nepal Ministry, followed by another one. The expeditions had been misled to believe the oxygen came from POISK - a trusted manufacturer. Shortly after, Michael Matthews died. Initially one of the strongest climbers, he suddenly slowed, and then fell off the mountain. “Our oxygen didn't work,” said his fellow teammates.

In the 70’s, Henry Todd was responsible for peddling second-rate acid brewed in a London basement. A UK organization called the “Independent Drug Monitoring Group” labeled the operation that Henry Todd was a part of as “the biggest acid lab in the world.” The operation made so much acid that when it was shut down, the price of a hit nearly doubled because the supply was so violently cut.

Henry Todd, one of the ringleaders, was thought to have helped make 15 million doses of LSD, and banking the profit into Swiss accounts. Todd and his friend "the chemist" got sentenced to the stiffest sentences in "Operation Julie," one of the UK’s largest drug busts ever: 13 years.

After he left prison, Todd went to Himalaya for business. In early 2000, Todd was banned from Nepal for beating up his Everest client (a journalist) in Base Camp.

John Tinker has not been guiding Everest lately but Henry Todd continues to lead commercial expeditions there. This spring, a Canadian doctor and an UK Embassy employee were among his clients. The doctor had to be evacuated from Base Camp due to frostbite injuries contracted on his summit push. Last year, another doctor client of Todd collapsed and died on summit push. Henry Todd has never summited Everest.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Concerning my recent post about my recent reticence to blog, Nick said, "Now that I'm trying to blog more frequently, I have the same dilemmas. There are things I'd like to share, but I don't for some of the same reasons you mention. I've been pondering an anonymous blog, but the notion leaves me feeling empty somehow."

Ben said, "Blogs work best for the blogger and the reader when they address topics the bloggers know and care about and the readers want to read about. Although we adore your idiosyncratic posts about hurricanes and plane trips and weird photo essays (especially the ones involving breasts), perhaps your topic is Zen. Maybe you should examine what part of your Zen experience it makes sense for you to share with your readers."

Greensmile said, "Your teaching posts might make a good collection...consider a page that gathers the links and a permanent link to the gathers left on the sidebar."

These comments are appreciated, but only add to my concern. Were I to blog solely about Zen teachings, it might lead the reader to conclude that Zen is a series of teachings, a collection of opinions, or worse yet, dogmas, that can be learned, studied, acquired and incorporated.

The "Zen experience" is without limitations . . . there is no experience that is not "Zen experience." Idiosyncratic posts about hurricanes and plane trips and weird photo essays (yes, even the ones involving breasts) are as much an expression of the dharma as a discussion of the nature of impermanence, the perception of consciousness and the role of faith. The latter are no more "Zen" than the former, and the former are no less "Zen" than the latter (although one group might be more useful to you than the other).

So anything I say just confuses the matter more. If I compartmentalize the posts, I'm discriminating between this and that, and perpetuation the delusion that there is a "this" different from the "that." If I talk freely about whatever's on my mind, however, I'm not being skillful, and might confuse the reader not only about Zen, but also about The Project, the environment, and the affairs of my heart.

Silence might seem like the best option, but at this point that option seems a little solipsistic.

So please bear with me as I try to re-find my voice, and maybe re-tool this blog a little bit.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Dalai Lama once said, "The best defense is built where your enemies are. To be able to observe your vows and at the same time resist the worldly temptations of an environment where so many circumstances tend to awaken one's desires - is this not admirable, marvelous behavior?"

Meanwhile, Daniel, as predicted, became a hurricane in the Pacific, and a tropical depression, Beryl if it becomes a storm, is forming in the Atlantic (but behind all of these storm clouds, the blue skies still shine).

Monday, July 17, 2006

D Is for Daniel

For a brief period last week, both Bud and Carlotta were dual hurricanes in the Pacific, before they reached cooler waters and degrading back down into tropical storms.

Yesterday, a tropical disturbance formed far to the south of Baja California and quickly increased in convective activity and organization. The National Hurricane Center designated it as a tropical depression that night. The depression continued to organize and was designated as Tropical Storm Daniel today.

As of 2 p.m., T.S. Daniel had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, with higher gusts. The storm was moving toward the west at about 12 mph. The storm is forecast to continue westward and intensify into a hurricane within the next 48 hours. National Hurricane Center forecasters note that there is the possibility of rapid intensification similar to Bud last week.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I don't understand a word of this, but I find it fascinating. Be sure to follow the links to additonal pages at the bottom.

Things aren't always what they appear to be.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Buddhas On Jet Skis

Sometimes I wonder what the point of blogging is. It seems that the more months that I blog, the less that I feel I can talk about.

Right from the beginning, I knew better than to blog about my job - there is no surer path to the unemployment line than blogging what you really think about your boss, your co-workers and your clients: even if you love them all, tongues start wagging when names and specifics get posted on line. So there's 8 to 10 hours a day of my life that are off-limits to this blog.

I cannot, or will not, blog specifically about The Project That Shall Not Be Named, for fear of Googling monkeys coming here looking for specific information about The Project, and misunderstanding the relation that all of the other content has to do with it. But two meetings on The Project, one Saturday and the other tomorrow, will dominate my time this weekend.

I'm not blogging about my topsy-turvy love life. I can't even say the reasons why (I started to several times, and kept deleting what I wrote. . . for reasons that I can't say).

I even find myself reluctant to talk about specifics of my Zen practice, or to mention my teacher or my teacher's teacher by name, lest a Google search leads someone to this site and that person thinks, say, that Buddhas on jet skis is what the teaching is all about.

So, in summary, since my career, The Project, my love life and my spiritual practice take up most of my conscious hours, what does that leave me to blog about? Only ideas - my thoughts on climate change, the Buddha-dharma, occasionally politics, adventuring news and so on or so forth (a list wearily familiar to regular readers of this blog).

So what am I doing on a jet ski? When were the pictures taken, and who is the boy riding with me and who is he waving to?

Sorry, I can't say.

The solution may be to create several different blogs - one about The Project and another about my spiritual life, an anonymous blog about my love life and another about thoughts, ideas, mental formations and abstractions. But what would that leave for Water Dissolves Water?

And who has time for that much blogging?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I am deeply saddened to report that climber Markus Kronthaler apparently died on Broad Peak in the Karakorum after returning from the summit and spending the night in a snow cave.

The facts of what happened will come out over time, but this is what is known so far: he and a teammate were forced to stay overnight in a snow cave on their summit bid. After the summit, they returned to the same snow cave and requested emergency help from other expeditions due to exhaustion and dehydration. No High-Altitude Porters were able to reach them.

A Polish team found Markus’ climbing partner Sepp Bachmair on a col (25,500 feet) in bad condition, and climber Piotr Morawski helped Sepp down to Camp 3. On the summit ridge, they later found Markus, who had already perished. After performing the last rites, the Poles proceeded to the main summit. His body remains on the mountain.

Unlike this season’s climbers on Everest, Morawski gave up his summit attempt in order to help the injured climber. However, he made a solo bid on Sunday July 9, reaching the summit at noon.

According to veteran climber Alan Arnette, who already had turned back from a summit attempt on Broad Peak this season, climbing to any summit above 26,000 feet is exhausting. It is difficult to eat or drink enough. Almost every climber becomes weak and dehydrated, and that is in good conditions. On Broad Peak this year there has been deep snow, crusty tops and exhausting trail breaking. Even when teams created a route through the deep snow, winds obscured them causing the next team to start all over. It is easy to see how Markus, being completely spent, made the decision to bivouac in the snow cave to try to regain his strength. Perhaps he simply fell asleep and then it was over.

Markus’ Austrian team reflected confidence and determination, probably characteristics of their leader. They were one of the first teams on Broad in 2006. Along with the Australians, they established high camps early, and unselfishly assisted other teams with trail breaking, while sharing equipment and space at the high camps.

The climbing season in the Karakorum is coming to an end as the jet stream is beginning its blast of the summit. With all of the tragedy on Everest earlier this season, this latest death is a sad finale to the year.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

C Is for Carlotta

After a long day at work and a long commute, I get home to read the following disturbing news: In a study published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review, Americans’ circles of friends have radically shrunk in the past two decades, from three to two, and those who have no one with whom they can have meaningful conversations has more than doubled to one quarter of the population.

The general trend is toward a smaller social network more centered on spouses. The study conducted by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona found that the percentage of people who only talk to family members about important matters has increased from 57 percent to 80 percent, while the number of people who depend totally on their spouse has increased from 5 to 9 percent.

This may be looked at as promising, that family is now viewed as important. But one can also draw the conclusion that community is no longer important to the average American.

Researchers found a decline in groups that people belong to and the amount of time they spend with these organizations. Members of families spend more time at work and have less time to spend on outside activities that might otherwise lead to close relationships.

“This is really a substantial change for the last 20 years,” says Matthew Brashears, who co-authored the 2004 study. “The magnitude of this research is not a good sign.”

The study asked 1,467 Americans to name the people whom they’ve discussed important matters like gender, race, education or family ties within the last six months. This is the first study concerning social networks since the original survey in 1985, which determined the average social network for Americans consisted of 2.94—or almost three—people.

The findings do not surprise me. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way America is laid out today. Our society and infrastructure promote isolation. Everyday examples of isolation include driving around in your car all the time. Everyone’s in boxes. Everyone's shopping in huge, monolithic malls with repetitive stores. Churches were once the center of communities, sometimes with the entire congregation knowing each other. Now, new mega-churches are towns within themselves, and instead of forming a sense of community, their escalating memberships can cause more isolation.

There is an increase in the number of people who have no one, who are truly isolated. It is well known that having a friend or two keeps you alive longer. It’s a powerful quality, and indicates how likely you are to be depressed.

The Duke and Arizona study found that African-American men older than 60 have seen the biggest decline in close friendships, from 3.6 people in 1985 to 1.8 in 2004. Statistically speaking, young white guys lost the most, though, and the older white population stayed mostly the same.

Though new technology can allow people to meet online and communicate through email or instant messaging, researchers feel that these connections can’t replace friends who do favors like picking you up when your car breaks down or bringing over hot soup when you’re sick.

Bashears, who earned his undergraduate degree at Emory University, says he found “the sense of community very strong in Atlanta” compared to other places he’s lived, but he also believes that cities like Atlanta that were constructed after the rise of the automobile are structurally different from the rustbelt cities of the North and could be more isolating. Bashears says he and his colleagues are still unsure of what caused the magnitude of the drop in social circles, but believes it has to do with longer work times and commute hours.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

B Is for Bud

A new study casts serious doubt on ethanol's status as a green wonder-fuel. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers lay out a series of grim findings about corn-based biofuel.

Runoff from large-scale corn cultivation contaminates waterways with nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticides. As a motor fuel, corn-based ethanol generates just 23 percent more energy than is required to make it. And finally, corn ethanol reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by a slim 12 percent over gasoline. The study found that soybean biodiesel outperforms the corn, but that "neither can replace much petroleum without impacting food supplies."

The best biofuel bet would be still-in-the-lab cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass or other woody plants, but most researchers agree that even widespread cellulosic ethanol production would have nowhere near the output to replace gasoline.

Researchers also said that people are just going to have to get used to driving less, and quit bitching and moaning about it.

No, wait, that was me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I only mentioned it in passing yesterday, but if you get a chance to see the movie "Peaceful Warrior," you really ought to go.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Completed the sesshin today, the first one that I've actually lead. Surprisingly, it seemed to have gone well.

We continued, between the meditation periods, the conversation documented in this blog on the topic of faith. This seemes to be a sticking point for many American Zen Buddhists.

Buddhism has often been described as both a rational religion and a religion of wisdom. Many people prefer not to call it a religion at all, but instead some vaguely-defined "something more like philosophy."

This does Buddhism a disservice. Buddhism is a religion, one of the so-called five great religions of the world, and it is a religion because, like all religions, it deals with man's relationship with the absolute, and also because it involves the element of faith.

In Buddhism, the term "faith" is not belief in something because it is written in a book, attributed to a prophet, or taught by some authority figure. The meaning of faith here is closer to confidence or trust. It is knowing that something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. There is trust in one’s own experience, and the wisdom that arises from one’s own experience. True faith in the Buddha-dharma is only possible when one validates the teachings for oneself.

The Buddha did not offer his teachings as a set of dogmas, but rather as a set of propositions for each individual to investigate for him- or herself. His invitation to one and all was "Come and see." One of the things he said to his followers was "Place no head above your own." By this he meant, don’t just accept somebody else’s word. See for yourself. So skepticism is integral to the Buddhist concept of faith (the yin i nthe midst of the yang).

And this is how Buddhism differs from most other religions. The faith is openly challenged and up for debate. in fact, if it isn't tested in practice, you're not practicing Buddhism. Also, the Buddhist definitiion of "the absolute" is not some separate other, say an omnipotent, vengeful, patriarchal god, but more the entire universe, including you, your mind, and your abstract mental formations.

So all of this was discussed and kicked around in between the meditation periods and in dokusan. After the sesshin was over, a small group of us went a saw the movie "Peaceful Warrior."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

7:00 a.m. - Driving to the zendo this morning to lead my first sesshin, I see that the sign in front of the Tara Theater reads: "Soon: A Scanner Darkly."

9:00 p.m. - Leaving the zendo after 13 hours of sesshin, I am astonished to see that it is still light out.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Associated Press - The first double amputee to summit Mount Everest is backing off a claim that earned him international condemnation: That his team radioed down to his expedition leader about a dying climber and was told to continue on to the summit.

New Zealander Mark Inglis had said that on his ascent in the early hours of May 15, he encountered 34-year-old David Sharp freezing to death under a small rock overhang near the mountain's summit.

Inglis said that when he radioed the information down to expedition leader Russell Brice, he was told to push on.

But in a statement to The Associated Press Thursday from Christchurch, New Zealand, where he is recuperating after having five fingers and parts of his leg stumps amputated from frostbite, Inglis now says the cold, strain and lack of oxygen might have caused him to mix up the details.

"I was sure that I heard radio traffic at the time," he wrote. "I also thought I had called myself and received a reply, but like all things in that early part of the day my focus was on my hands and the challenges to come, specifically the traverse to and the climb of the (S)econd (S)tep" _ a 100-foot rock cliff below the summit.

"That combined with the difficulties with the oxygen mask meant that I may be mistaken," Inglis continued.

The earlier claim earned Inglis and Brice the scorn of Everest pioneer and fellow New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, and exemplified what many decry as the summit-at-all-cost ethic that has grown up around the world's tallest peak.

Inglis, 46, a former search-and-rescue mountaineer who lost both legs in a 1982 climbing incident, recalled coming to the rock overhang around midnight during his ascent, and noticing that the guide rope he and other climbers use on their way up disappeared into the small cave. Inglis said he had to unclip his safety harness from the rope, walk hunched over for a few meters, then clip back on.

"During those few meters I saw in the back of the cave someone huddled up," wrote Inglis in the e-mail. "I pointed him out to Dorji (his Sherpa guide) and moved on out to clear the route for the others following. I called out to the others to check the guy out as he looked frozen solid."

On the way down, Inglis said he and a companion were concerned about their own frostbite. When they saw that others were trying to help Sharp, they kept moving.

"Unfortunately as the least able client that day that was about all I could do," he wrote. "To get into the 'cave' would have been difficult for me, I struggled with the open overhang as it was ... additionally my stumps were near the limit of their function and I still had a long way to go."

After being evacuated to the Nepalese capital of Katmandu, Inglis gave a brief interview to TVNZ, in which he said there was a radio call to Brice on the way up - which Brice has steadfastly denied. Now, Inglis says his "recollection is unclear."

"Dorji indicated that we had to keep moving," Inglis wrote. "After letting the others know by call out and perhaps using the radio, I am unsure about the details, we moved on."

Inglis said it was not until more than a week later that he learned the full story of Sharp's predicament.

"It is unfortunate that David's parents have not been able to do what they requested," he concluded, "to grieve for David in private."

Inglis, who worked at New Zealand's Mt. Cook National Park, was himself rescued after spending two weeks in an ice cave during a blizzard. He lost both legs below the knees but continued climbing on prosthetics.

During the Everest expedition, Inglis had a close call when he was sliding down a slack rope too fast and somersaulted several times, cracking his climbing foot along its stem. Inglis repaired the broken prosthetic and continued using it until a replacement could be brought up.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Other than duct tape (naturally), has there ever been an invention greater than PTFE thread seal tape?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth!

I don't want to be a kill-joy, but according to the NY Times, nothing much really happened on July 4, 1776. Although this date is emblazoned on the Declaration, the Colonies had actually voted for independence two days earlier; the document wasn't signed until a month later. When John Adams predicted that the "great anniversary festival" would be celebrated forever, from one end of the continent to the other, he was talking about July 2, not July 4.

Happy Independence Day, anyway.