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Archive for the ‘experiences’ Category

I love the thought of outdoor showers. Possibly, maybe, because it presupposes that you live in a place where the weather is nice enough to shower outside on a regular basis, and that you have enough distance from your neighbors to preserve at least a bit of your modesty, and that you actually live in a house, and ideally that you’d have a good reason for having an outdoor shower, such as washing off the salt and sand from the beach you were just surfing at. When I think of outdoor showers, I picture something like this:

One of my few complaints about living on a boat is that I don’t even have an indoor shower. Every morning I shuffle off to the facilities on shore and shower there. But that’s not very convienient. And lately it has been hot on the boat… really hot. I get up in the morning and check my thermometer (a gift from the Topnotch Resort and Spa in Vermont), and even at 7 am, it reads 90 degrees, and it gets hotter as the day wears on. I begin to sweat even as I climb down my companionway stairs after just returning from the showers, so, you wonder why you bother! Then, if I do any work on the boat, sanding, varnishing, or painting, I end up sopping wet.

So, at the end of the day, I treat myself to my very own solar-heated outdoor shower:

Also known as a garden hose. Oh, I don’t have the privacy I would prefer, and have to shower in my swim trunks. And I don’t want to soap up and foul the water around the marina. And I can’t control the temperature, but it works out pretty well all the same. You see, the water is fed to the docks through a large black water pipe, and as long as nobody has been out washing their boat all day, the water in the pipe gets pretty darn warm, giving you a comfortable water temperature without wasting gas or electricity! And, if I stand over my rose bush, then I’m recycling my grey water and keeping the landscaping healthy. How ‘green’ am I?!

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Who are you…who are you. Are you Mukuru?

An aboriginal elder queries Richard Chaimberlain’s character David Burton in Peter Weir’s film The Last Wave (aka Black Rain). Burton thought he knew, but he had no idea!

Who are you? Do you know where you leave off, and where everyone else begins? When I took up the practice of meditation, I was instructed to pay attention to the thoughts that passed through my mind during the course of the day; to be ‘mindful’. It was a little overwhelming, discovering just how many thoughts I had, and many seemingly random. ‘I wonder what the price of gold is today’, (I don’t invest). ‘The Red Sox could use a good left-handed starting pitcher’, (I don’t follow sports). ‘Do these jeans make my butt look fat?’, (I don’t have much of a butt). Early on, in meditation, you learn that you are also psychic, and that many of the thoughts you think are not even your own. But which are which?!

‘Know thyself’ is an old saying, but it was a difficult thing to undertake. Most of my adult life, up to that point, I had been involved in close physical/emotional relationships and I couldn’t honestly separate their thoughts, emotions and energy (vibration) from my own.

So I had to make a choice. Do I keep ‘playing house’ or do I seriously give this practice of meditation my full attention? Oh, nobody was twisting my arm, and I wasn’t trying to comply with some ashram rules. It was just a choice that was clear to me at that stage of my life. I chose the latter, because I wanted to know who I was, all alone, when nobody else was around.

I spent three years outside of a relationship, and celibate (though I might have jumped at the chance to break that streak). And during that time, I learned what it was like to live in my own energy, to think my own thoughts; I got to know ‘me’. I found that many of my mundane thoughts were, in fact, my own. But many were not. But most importantly, I learned to like the person I was. I wasn’t perfect, but I tried hard and I meant well. With that knowledge, I could be perfectly happy alone.

Then something wonderful happened. All the fear and insecurity I’d had with me my whole life dropped away. If I was in a relationship, that was great. If I wasn’t, well, that was great too. I found this allowed me to love more deeply than ever before, because I didn’t have to hold back anything. I didn’t have to fear that my love wouldn’t last forever. I knew that it wouldn’t; nothing in this world ever does! I knew to appreciate it while I could, and when it was over, to wish the other well on their way. But the real beauty is that you don’t stop loving them, once the relationship is over. The love is unconditional; it’s not predicated on being in a relationship.

I enjoy being in a relationship. I love the sharing, the intimacy and the humor that springs from human interaction. You can be whole, all by yourself, but you can be even more with others. But I still take time to be alone with myself, to stay in touch with who I am. Because it is this feeling of ‘wholeness’ that makes that level of unconditional love possible.

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I think I finally ‘groked’ something that had been eluding me for the past several years.  ‘Grok’ if you are not familiar with it, comes from Robert Heinline’s classic sci-fi novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’.  It means ‘to understand something at the deepest level’.

My realization came while stripping the paint and varnish off of the gaff spar of my traditional sail boat.  This is a slow and painful process which can take days and days to complete.

On a wooden spar, they typically paint the ends of the spar with white paint, and varnish the center part.  I noticed that the varnish in the middle part had failed badly and that the wood was discolored and somewhat damaged by water incursion.  The sections that were covered by white paint were pristine.  Oh, there had been a few cracks in the paint, but very little water had gotten in, and the wood is in very good shape.

They paint the ends of the spars with white paint for precisely this reason… the paint holds up better, and longer, to protect the wood.  So, they put paint on the very ends of the spars, where the end grain could act like straws and suck up moisture, inducing the spar to rot from within.

So, why not paint the whole spar white?  Wouldn’t this protect the wood best?  Yes!  The answer, though, is vanity.  Nothing looks prettier than a large varnished chunk of wood.  If you have a boat with large wooden spars, masts, hand-holds, toe rails, hatch covers, a boomkin or a bowsprit, you want to show them off!  And so you spend hundreds of hours (or thousands of dollars) applying coat after coat of clear varnish, so that people can see the beauty of the wood underneath.

The problem is that varnish is short-lived.  Every six months or so, you have to touch it up and re-apply a few new coats.  And, if you don’t, then within a year or two at most, it will totally fail, making it necessary for you to take the piece back to the bare wood (which requires the painful stripping process referenced above) and start all over again.

Unless you have deep pockets, you end up doing most of this work yourself.  And given the amount of time it takes per year, it comes out to roughly ALL THE FREE SAILING TIME YOU HAVE.  So, either, you spend all season keeping your boat looking nice, or, you actually get to take it out sailing once in a while, but then it suffers from the elements.

All for what?  Vanity.  All because varnished wood looks so much better. It’s not better for the wood, or the boat, or your pocketbook, or your social calendar… but for the people standing around looking at your boat; for the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ coming from the assembled masses, and from yourself!

Vanity is one of the Seven Deadly Sins to the Catholics among us, and in Buddhism, it is recognized as a form of attachment, which ultimately brings pain and suffering.  Bingo!  If I were planning to keep my boat for a long time, I think I would paint every piece of varnished wood.  Then sail the boat for a couple of years without having to worry about it.  Touching up paint is a breeze, so I might not ever have to take the piece back to the bare wood again!

However, I’m planning on selling it… so, I won’t.  Some fresh varnish might appeal to someone else’s vanity, sigh.

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I’m continually amazed at the power of the human mind.  Its ability to process data and discern minute details is unparalleled.  Cray, the largest maker of super-computers (at least at one point in history), made computers that filled an entire room, took thousands of gallons of cooling fluids, all to process data at a fraction of the speed of the human mind.  Granted, their super-cooled CPU’s didn’t get bored.

I get bored sometimes, and when I do, I might play video games.  I’m not much into the violent stuff, but I like the stuff that challenges your hand-eye coordination. One program I liked (for the XBox-360) was Pro Gotham Racing.  I liked this partially because many of the race courses were modeled after neighborhoods in the 5 boroughs of NY that I know so well.  It’s an extra-special treat when you get to race an exotic sports car down a city street you have driven down in real life, in a regular car.

Sometimes, you’d be challenged with a race that would just kick your butt.  And so you’d restart, and it would kick your butt again and you would restart again, and so on and so forth for far too many hours.  But… if you stuck with it, that great little brain we have, would start to notice minute patterns.  In one race, I noticed that I got further, if on the very first turn, I crashed into the rear of the leading car (effectively taking them out of the race).  In fact, you couldn’t do well at all in that race unless you took out the front-runners on the first turn.  I don’t know how I arrived at those conclusions (lie, yes I do, trial and error over multiple restarts), but they proved to be true.  (full disclosure… I never buy the cheat-books… that would spoil all of the fun).

I find that this gaming mindset spills over into other areas of my life.  I program computers for a living, and the same faculty that helps me figure out what to do correctly, in a game, is the one that helps me figure out what is wrong with a computer program… or, my car, when it breaks down by the side of the road.  I don’t know how I do it, but its a little like those CSI videos, where you sort of ‘gaze’ inside to see how the bullet entered into the victim and nicked the aorta, you just know where the problem is coming from.

They say we only use about 10% of the capability of our minds.  I’m thinking it is maybe less!  Through the practice of meditation, I’ve learned that there is a way of directly ‘knowing’ something, without taking the ‘long way’ around through logical understanding.  There was a great book that I read several times when growing up called ‘A Wrinkle in Time’.  In the book, they gave this analogy… they said ‘imagine that you have a string stretched between the fingers of your two hands.  And, imagine that an ant walks across the string from one hand to the other.  It is a long way that the ant has to crawl.  But, if you were to bring your hands together, the ant could step from the start point to the end point without traversing the middle.’ (not an exact quote, I’m just remembering here).

We are used to the scenario where we start off not knowing something, then we get a bunch of books, do a bunch of reading, then eventually, we learn something.  But what if that wasn’t the only way to learn?  What if you could suddenly just know something, like in the movie, ‘the Matrix’, when they download a Kung Fu program, or a Helicopter Pilot program?

Well, in fact, it is possible!  The human mind is a much more capable beast than we give it credit for.  The only reason we don’t see this is that we don’t believe it is possible… we don’t test the envelop!  If you study with an advanced teacher… or study on your own, but seriously read the works of the advanced teachers, then you might experience this.  What happens is that they touch your awareness and download a ‘block of attention’ to your mind, just like downloading a zip file of some incredible research paper to your computer’s hard-drive.  In formal lingo they call this the ‘direct transmission of the dharma’.

By itself, that zip file sitting on your hard-drive is just taking up space.  If you don’t attempt to unzip it, or access it in some way, it’s not going to do you any good.  But, if you put your attention to it, you can gain access to the contents.  So, if an advanced teacher transmits a block of attention to you, you won’t immediately know what to do with it.  But, if they have at least given you an idea of the subject of the knowledge they gave you, then you will start to read the books, and do the background research on the topic… and then, this is when the magic kicks in… as you begin to acquaint yourself with the basics, you suddenly grasp the deep esoteric meaning of the topic… you unzip the zip file!  It is all plain as day!  It is as if you had always known this knowledge, but you’d forgotten it and had just remembered!

Wow!

People who learn how to harness this power of the mind may advance very quickly. It takes focus and hard work, but the payoffs are immense!  If you are not decoding the secrets of the Universe, then either you are not taking advantage of the power of your mind, or you are focusing it in the wrong direction.  I mean, it is nice to know the optimal way to cache the CBS video player’s content over a slow connection (Survivor/Amazing Race – hint, pause the player while it is playing, pausing while it has stalled will cause problems), but there are far more interesting things you could be comprehending!

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Sleep

To die, to sleep—
To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come – Hamlet

Sleep is a very important part of life.  It consumes roughly a third of it, and without adequate sleep, the rest of our life goes downhill rather quickly. A good night of sleep can change your whole disposition.  I must have slept well last night, for I walked through the snow this morning and thought what a beautiful day and a beautiful world this is.

There are many reasons why we sleep.  We sleep, in part, to rest and restore our body; the immune system gets a boost during sleep, and the hypothalamus releases human growth hormone in younger people.  We also sleep to rest our mind.  There are periods of deep sleep where there is almost no thought.  Similar, though not quite, like deep meditation.  I believe this period of deep sleep is essential for restoring your energy body as thought drains a lot of your energy away.  And then there are periods of dreaming.  Some dreams reflect business leftover from the course of the day.  Some dreams serve as fantasy, wish-fulfillment, a way to relieve the frustration we may feel in our waking life.  Some dreams are conscious, aware, but aware in a different dimension, an astral dimension.  Australian Aboriginals call this the Dreamtime, sort of an Outback telephone, a way they can astral travel thousands of miles at the speed of thought and communicate with their relatives.  Sleep is very important for a happy and healthy life.

And yet, for something that is so important to our lives, we look at sleep as something we have no control over.  It just happens… or doesn’t happen, or it is fitful or deep or short or too long.  In fact, we can influence our sleep to a great degree with our waking life.  We can do things to ensure the best sleep, and thereby gain its benefits.

Our sleep is affected by what we eat, and when.  Ever have one of those late night spicy pizza dreams?  Sleep is affected by alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or various other drugs.  Our sleep is affected by the amount and types of thoughts we think throughout the day.  If our mind is racing during the day, it will be racing while we dream too.  If we think fearful thoughts during the day, we’re likely to dream about fearful things at night.

So, a little common sense can help us ensure a good night’s sleep.  Don’t eat much late at night.  Moderate your drinking early in the evening.  Avoid caffeine or nicotine entirely, in the evening, if at all possible.  Get in bed before you find yourself nodding off in front of the TV (from one who knows).

Your position during sleep may have a profound effect on your sleep as well.  In the book Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light they indicate that in order to enter into higher dimensional planes when sleeping, men should sleep on their right side, and women should sleep on their left.  This was interesting to me, as I almost always slept on my left side, and frequently had challenging dreams.  Now, due to the configuration of my bunk, it is nearly impossible to sleep on my left side, so I’ve been sleeping on my right, and my sleep has been much more restful.  Additionally, I now notice that when turning over to my left side, my whole digestive system seems to be in much greater stress, so I roll onto my back or right side instead.  I’m not sure of any physiological reason behind this, but it is very apparent to me.

One of the most effective things you can do to improve your sleep, is meditation (is there anything that meditation can’t improve?).  The practice of meditation helps you learn to reduce the number of thoughts you have throughout the day.  It also teaches you to focus on positive things, so when you dream, your dreams will generally be less frantic and more positive.  Meditation greatly increases the energy in your energy body, making sleep less necessary.  People who practice meditation on a regular basis may thrive on six hours of sleep or less per night.  Advanced practitioners may not sleep at all.  They sit absorbed in samadhi instead.  Rather than sleeping, you could say they are waking up!

Pleasant dreams!

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I realize that this is a strange title for a post, but then I’m reading a pretty strange book at the moment called ‘What is the What?’  It’s the story of a boy, growing up in Sudan, who experiences untold hardships during their civil war and the atrocities that followed.

It is a very engaging read and a delightful dialogue to follow, but the reality of what he relates is almost too much to handle.  We would all conveniently like to believe that stuff like this does not really happen, but, in fact, it does.  He talks about mothers, shot through the gut, who press on for miles running from danger, only to die on the roadside, with an infant at their side.  The author rescues one such child, and hopefully it thrives, but one never knows.

Or, his tales of walking through the tall grass, and having his friend, walking steps behind him, taken by a lion.  Our protagonist is never at a loss for words… he’s talking, always talking, always telling his story.  He talks silently in his mind, telling those who he perceives have wronged him in some way, about his story.  He talks as if to say, ‘I’ve endured so many horrible things in my life.  Why do you have to add to my misery?’

I think he talks about these horrible things he’s experienced so that he may get them out of his system.  Like vomiting out a bad piece of meat.  Once he has told his story, he can move on to other things.  This is what attracted me to the story!

When I was about the same age, I was stuck by a car as I was running across a busy street.  I broke both bones in my lower leg.  Not the most serious injury but enough to get your attention as a young boy.

During my rehabilitation, they told me to walk on the leg as much as possible.  And so I did!  I walked a couple of miles a day in my ‘knee cast’ (after a couple of months in a thigh cast), and I was happy to be able to do so.

All the while that I walked, I talked to myself, I told my story.  I poured out all the anger, frustration, injustice that I had experienced in life, to no one in particular… or to the cars speeding by.   It didn’t really matter.  It was ‘talking – as not talking’; talking to vent the frustration, but not to communicate anything to anyone, or to vent on anyone in particular.  The idea was that once I let these thoughts out of my head, they might leave me alone.  And they did!  I suspect this is why Valentino talks so much.

Meditation, I’ve found, is a far more effective way to assuage your thoughts.  You have more control over whether you think or not, and what you focus on when you do think.

But I suppose there are times when the pressure is just too great.  When you have to vent or explode.  In that case, I suggest that  you take a long walk around the block and talk like a crazy person to no one in particular (I suppose you could pretend you are talking on your cell phone), or perhaps write your thoughts down into a notebook, or tell your story in your own mind as Valentino does.

But then leave your thoughts by the side of the road and move on.

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About a month and a half ago I made a post about my ‘Boat Experiment’, what I called ‘BEing‘. It talked about my first 45 days, experimenting with living on-board a 32 foot sailboat, in the New York Metropolitan area.  Today is about the 90th day, so I thought it time for an update.  The first week or two on the boat were a bit of a shock.  Then, the next month went by fairly smoothly.  The holidays were actually quite fun.  I cooked a great Christmas Eve and Christmas Dinner (I cooked the same thing both nights as I’d bought way more than I could eat in one night).

I got off the boat for a week and spent New Years up in Vermont… one of my favorite places in the world.  I got to ride in a ‘one-horse-open-sleigh’ (and joke with the driver about how often people asked him to sing Jingle Bells).  I’d planned to snowboard, but ended up snowshoeing instead, and really enjoyed it.  Much of the time, I just enjoyed sitting by the fireplace in great company.

Coming back to the City and back to the boat was a shock.  I didn’t realize how much I’d opened up, while out in the Vermont wilderness, and so when I hit the City, with all of the desire, and anger, and noise… it took me by surprise.  Once back in my small cabin, my meditation routine, my work routine, things got back to normal.

For me this such a ‘big experiment’, but I’ve known people who have lived aboard boats for years.  It’s no big deal.  Practically, it is no big deal.  But, it is a big deal on certain levels.

I decided to try this experiment, because I was fed up with a life that I was barely present in.  A life in a cushy apartment; a life where I’d end my day as early as possible, flip on the TV, throw something into the oven, jump back to the couch to watch some more TV, chow down, drink some more wine, throw in a load of laundry, watch some more TV until I woke up in the middle of the night on the couch, threw the laundry in the dryer, turned off the TV, went to bed and started all over again the next morning.

You can’t cruise your way through life on a boat (at least not in the winter time). Things are much more holistic; they coincide with the Sun and the Moon.  In the morning, the rising sun first starts to reflect off my neighbor’s mast spreader, and somehow manages to find its way directly into my eye, through the porthole, no matter which bunk I’m sleeping in.  This clues me in to the time of day (I don’t wear a watch).  Shower-time is dictated equally by my bowels and the bathroom cleaning schedule (should the twain never conflict), hence the time of day is important.

Once showered and back on the boat, it is good to stay busy all day.  Around 4:30, sunset is approaching, so, it is good to go for a walk, get some air, watch the sunset. I either eat out, or pick up something to cook on the boat.  Where I used to just throw something into the oven, and go off and do other things, cooking on the boat is much more deliberate.  I stand over the stove to stay warm, so, I pay much more attention to my food.  And, in the process, enjoy the heavenly smells (most of the time) emanating from the pots.

The dishes are washed immediately after dinner, as, I have no room for dirty dishes anywhere.  So, dinner is done by 7:00.  The rest of the night, I might work on the computer, read, or watch a little hulu.com, chat, text message, browse Facebook or whatever.  Then, relatively early, I shut down my electronics, decide what bunk I’m sleeping in, and crawl into a cool berth that quickly warms with my body heat.  I sleep a good night (though often with active dreams), and start again with the first rays of the morning.

I walked around today, and thought about where I am today, versus where I was 90 days ago, and I realized that my Boat Experiment, my BEing was a complete success.  I wanted to shock myself out of the rut I’d been in for the last several years.  I’ve succeeded!  I wanted to be present all throughout my day, and I’ve succeeded.  I wanted to save on expenses… I’ve saved about twelve thousand dollars so far… possibly fifty thousand dollars a year, if I go for a full year.  Whoo-hoo!  I’ve succeeded.

But more than anything, it is about being aware of and present in your life, recognizing when you’re not where you’d like to be, and having the courage to do something about it (however ill advised).  And coming out stronger on the other end.

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