Monday, June 27, 2011


While recently on vacation at Lake Tahoe I tried dispensing with my usual morning meditation practice. 
I began meditating in the mid seventies. For twenty years I meditated on and off. Mostly on: I know its benefits. But since 1996, the year my mother died, I’ve devotedly practiced every day, with very rare exceptions usually due to illness.
Fifteen years is a long time to do anything continuously. I had become so accustomed to it that I began to wonder whether the beneficial effects might accrue without actually having to sit. 
There, in the mountains with my family, I had little to do beyond enjoying the scenery with the people I love most deeply. Further, being away on vacation, far from my home alter and zafu I found myself in a suite of rooms that didn’t have a quiet place to easily accommodate my devotions. 
After a few days of ducking into the bedroom in the mornings to meditate after my wife got up, I convinced myself that I had found the ideal situation to discover what life without a meditation practice might be like. I was willing to undergo an experiment.
For the first few days I was delighted to find out that I seemed to do just fine. I could discern no obvious changes to my mood, my outlook, my temperament, or my discernment. In fact, I told myself that I was doing everyone a favor by not disappearing every morning. Instead I could join the family for coffee and conversation in the dining room.
In the middle of the vacation we rented stand up paddle boards. As we returned the boards to the shop, I saw a canoe on special sale. I really, really wanted to buy it. In retrospect, I can see now that the force of this desire was stronger than any desire I had endured in fifteen years—a desire strong enough to intrude on my thoughts even when engaging in other activities. At the time, though, my mind was so wrapped up in the object of desire that I was not aware of my rapture.
This desiring grew each day. It became almost an obsession. Then, near the end of our vacation, when we returned to our home near the coast, I found myself having to cope with something new: anger. 
I was getting peeved over small events that normally don’t even raise a ripple in the waters of my mind. I usually take in stride little things like being cut off on the freeway by an inattentive driver. Now it was enough to tick me off. I found myself taking offense  and even colorfully expressing my displeasure loudly enough for my daughter to hear. This is quite unlike me.
In the last hours of our family vacation, I began to get peeved even at members of my family!
Finally, I suspected that my heightening greed and anger might be the result of this experiment with meditation-free living. I was amazed that my discernment had been so severely impaired. 
My experiment was done. The day after my daughter flew home I resumed my practice. I got up early and sat. After a good long sit, I decided to listen to non-human wisdom, the kind you find on rivers. 
I went out paddling alone to listen to the trees, to the birds and to the murmuring waters. Their sagacity seeped slowly in. Afflictive mental factors unwound backwards, like a skein of yarn stretching out into space. Anger cooled and mellowed back towards equanimity. Family, of all people, are to be loved. 
Greedy mind loosened its tight bind on my mind. I knew I was satisfied with what I already have. My problem is that I have too many possessions! To release my belongings, to pare down, down and down some more—this is the way to approach fulfillment.
I could breathe again.  
Refreshed by my breath, my mind could relax and broaden. I could feel the truest truth: inhalations and exhalations—the simplest, deepest, and most vital of all pleasures between being born and dying. 
I came back to my breath, to my senses, to my contentment, and to the degree of equanimity to which I've grown accustomed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Paddling to Freedom

Later on I plan to write a bit about paddling and how it can serve as a metaphor for the Buddhist (or any spiritual) way of being.

For now, though, I offer you this inspiring 5-minute video. It's captivating, arresting.

If you get 50 seconds into it, I'll bet you'll watch the whole thing to the end.

BIRTHRIGHT from Sean Mullens on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats

From NASA's website:

Click to zoom in. Don't miss the eclipsed moon up in the sky!

Copyright information:

Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats 
Credit & CopyrightChris Kotsiopoulos (GreekSky)
Explanation: Thunderstorms almost spoiled this view of the spectacular June 15 total lunar eclipse. Instead, storm clouds parted for 10 minutes during the total eclipse phase and lightning bolts contributed to the dramatic sky. Captured with a 30 second exposure the scene also inspired what, in the 16 year history of Astronomy Picture of the Day, the editor considers may be the best title yet for a picture (title credit to Chris K.). Of course, the lightning reference clearly makes sense, and the shadow play of the dark lunar eclipse was widely viewed across planet Earth in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The picture itself, however, was shot from the Greek island of Ikaria at Pezi. That area is known as "the planet of the goats" because of the rough terrain and strange looking rocks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Biking and Hiking at Lake Tahoe

Spooner Lake
I was going to write a post about how much I've changed with regard to my views about heaven. The summary point would have been that after decades of disbelief (if heaven existed, why don't even the best space-based telescopes see it?) I now am thoroughly agnostic and interested to learn more. This is the effect of reading Brian Greene's book about the eleven kinds of multiverses that might be out there.

But I'm not going to write that post because in a way I AM in heaven right now, on vacation in the mountains with my family.

When your daughter is a resident doctor who works 80 hours a week, vacation time is extraordinarily precious. We're doing our best to make Elizabeth's vacation as relaxing and refreshing as we know how.

Today Elizabeth and I rented bicycles at Tahoe City along the western shore of Lake Tahoe and rode on bicycle paths north, west, and south of the city.

We rode west along the Truckee River to Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, an event I remember watching on television with keen interest as a boy.

Turning back up river, we returned to Tahoe City and headed south, as far as Sugar Pine Point. We found a market in Tahoma called PDQ famous for its huge sandwiches. We split one and could barely get back on our bikes we were so full.

Right after lunch by the lake
What Lake Tahoe looks like from our lunch spot

We rode something more than 30 miles (50 Km) in all. This was more riding than I thought we'd manage since Elizabeth quite literally had not ridden a bicycle since she discovered horses 17 years ago. She added credibility to the saying, "Once you know how to ride a bike you'll never forget how." Muscle memory endures.

We've been hiking, too. The picture at the top is of Spooner Lake which we circumambulated yesterday.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What's SUP

Ted with Incline Village in the background

On vacation, whole family together in the mountains. 

This morning Ted and I rented Stand Up Paddleboards. People use the acronym, SUP, as either a noun and verb. It's a good thing when your item for sale makes it into English like that.

SUP is a way to go out on the water. It's as relaxing and as mellow as it looks. Sort of like walking on water.

The water is really really cold still, but if you're careful—I was careful—you won't go in.

We had a really good time.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Boundless Greed

"When it comes to dealing with greed, one thing which is quite characteristic is that although it arises from the desire to obtain something, it is not satisfied by obtaining it. Therefore it becomes limitless or boundless, and that leads to trouble."

—the Dalai Lama

In comments to my last post, Robert and Teresa Evangeline both pointed out the disappearing nature of any satisfaction that comes from buying stuff. 

Things age. Newness fades. Cars get their first scratches, or a tiny parking lot dent, then sooner or later, they'll need maintenance or repair. The insurance I had to buy pays for none of these. Computers and other electronic contraptions (Teresa E.— I love that word, con-trap-tion!) become obsolete as newer, faster, smaller, better updates appear. 

Greed for objects is boundless, as DL points out, because acquiring things won't bring satisfaction.

When I'm about to spring for something new and shiny, I try to recall the fact that my satisfaction won't last. It'll fade as the object ages. I picture the whatever gewgaw I am about to buy sitting in the trash can or thrown in the van with other items on their way to the recycling center. 

Then l I can slip the Visa card back into my wallet and turn my attention to activities much more likely to bring contentment.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Affluenza

“If an individual has a sufficient spiritual base, he won’t let himself be overwhelmed by the lure of technology and the madness of possession. He or she will know how to find the right balance, without asking for too much, and know how to say, I have a camera, that’s enough, I don’t want another. The constant danger is to open the door to greed, one of our most relentless enemies. It is here that the real work of the mind is put into practice.”  the Dalai Lama
Eleven months of the year I am content with the things I have. Mostly I think about paring down my possessions.
But each June, the fires of greed flare up. I’ve noticed this for almost as long as I’ve been teaching. For 30 Junes I’ve ventured into the marketplace to buy bikes, canoes, kayaks, computers, sailboats, camping gear, even cars! It’s always something. I would tell myself that I was only equipping myself for summer vacation.
I know better now: summer provisioning does not really explain my June bouts with affluenza. 
Underneath my greed I see churning feelings of sadness and loneliness. A lot of it comes from having to suspend my teaching. Teaching rewards me deeply, and I miss it during the summer. Retail therapy also distracts me from facing long lonely hours that can be difficult to fill when living on a budget. (And it sure doesn’t help to have blown the budget as the summer gets underway!) 
Apple computer company understands and exploits the links between loneliness and greed. They don’t market their products so much; they market a promise that their newest tech-toy will make their customers feel more connected, entertained, or creative. 

I've fallen for this false promise so many times!!
These gadgets actually—let’s be honest—have exactly the opposite effect: these devises separate us from the people who join us in our actual here and now.
So, how did I do this summer? Well, the gap between knowing this and putting what I know into practice is still huge. 

Sure, I didn’t buy the car I was researching on the Internet. 

I did buy something I did not need—an iPad—as did other teachers on my staff.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Brainstorming a Sound Playground

Yesterday I joined a group of visionary people to envision a new sort of sound laboratory  that doesn’t yet exist: a workshop/playground/museum for sound and music. I love brainstorming!
We envisioned a place where kids of all ages—particularly children and youth—would meet to explore and create within the sonic realm. Our place would resonate with the Crucible in Oakland, California, but a sonic version of it. Haven't heard of the Crucible? They are a non-profit collaboration of Arts, Industry, and Community. There's a link at the bottom and it is worth checking out.
We met in one of the buildings that may eventually hold this meeting place—Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park, California. This is also where a publicly-funded Waldorf Charter High School called Credo High School may soon come to be. The sound lab would be affiliated with the high school.
We talked about the sorts of activities that might take place there:
• Candidates for elementary teaching credentials learning to play the ukulele so they can sing with their class
• Anyone interested learning to play the ukulele, guitar, and other instruments
• People building musical instruments
• People learning how to run a music studio
• Singers singing together
• Instrumental musicians playing ensemble
The place needs a name, of course. We don’t have a name yet. 

Mulling it over for the last 30 hours I’ve thought of several ideas:
Sonoma Mountain Village Sound Playground  
(My favorite. I like the rhyming, and the implication of fun.)
Sonoma Mountain Village Sound Workshop 
(More businesslike)
Sonoma Mountain Village Soundatorium  
(perhaps phonetically it’s too close to sanitarium)
Rummaging around in YouTube I found these two clips of the sorts of things you might find going on inside our Sound Playground. The first is of a water phone. There is a link to the maker of these at the bottom of this post.
This second one is of a new electronic music the likes of which I've never seen before:

I’d love to hear from Mindful Heart readers what they think of these ideas.
Link to Credo High School

Link to The Crucible

Link to The Waterphone

Link to article about Darrell De Vore

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spinning Round and Round

Although the world seems flat, most of us know it ain't flat. Our senses create an illusion of flatness that's not there.

In a very similar way, the sun appears to climb up over the horizon at dawn and sink under the western horizon at sunset. It just ain't so.

When we understand that the earth spins on its axis we can begin to see that the sun is comparatively motionless in the sky. We're simply sitting on a little ball that spins us round eastwardly at about 1,000 miles per hour.  If we could hop on a plane flying east at 1,000 miles per hour,  the sun would stay approximately motionless in the sky. Geosynchronous satellites do this trick up in space.

This is hard to describe, but easy to see in this video clip that appeared on the NASA apod site the other day.



Earth Rotating Under Very Large Telescopes 
CreditS. Guisard & Jose Francisco SalgadoESOBulletpeople.comMusic: Arcadia (License: Kevin Macleod)
Explanation: Why is the Earth moving in the above video? Most time lapse videos of the night sky show the stars and sky moving above a steady Earth. Here, however, the frames have been digitally rotated so that it is the stars that stay (approximately) steady, and the Earth that moves beneath them. The video dramatically shows the actual rotation of the Earth, called diurnal motion, in a clear and moving way, as if the camera were floating free in space. The telescopes featured in the video are the Very Large Telescopes (VLT) in Chile, a group of four of the largest optical telescopes deployed anywhere in the world. A discerning observer of the above time lapse movie may also note the use of laser guide starszodiacal light, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and fast-moving, sunlight-reflecting, Earth-orbiting satellites. The original video, on which the above sequences are based, can be found here.