Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spring Into Action

Spring breeds thoughts of new beginnings and floral bouquets literally popping out of the ground. It's all happy animals fornicating and buds abounding. To me this year it provides (as did winter and fall!) an opportunity for new challenges and some introspection.

It started simply. I read a quote by Stephen Covey, "If you start to think the problem is ‘out there,’ stop yourself. That thought is the problem." I had been denying my yearning to get out and ride my bike to work because it was still a bit 'chilly' in the morning and I was lazy. But Mr. Covey convinced me that only I was going to make myself happy. So I moved on my inclinations and my physical prowess overcame my mental disturbances. As I rode happily down the street at a maximum of 33mph I was literally overcome with joy and laughter. I'd found the freedom I'd been seeking.

Where's the introspection, you may ask? I found that the simplicity of my actions led me down a path of deeper thought. That is, 'Is it really that easy?' Action, re-action, acceptance, etc. etc.? Can I do the same with the rest of my life? The age-old answer is both yes and no. I would love to say everything is as simple as choosing to ride one's bicycle... and maybe it is.

Of course with things like relationships, taxes and work it's important to realize that there are outside influences that will ebb and flow with one's ability to adapt to their challenges. It's not to say that Mr. Covey is wrong. The ability to adapt is still within oneself. It's just a matter of internalizing that adaptation. One can awake every morning and say, "How wonderful it is to be alive! I appreciate the world, the animals, the rocks, the trees. I am the Buddha incarnate." But if the same person burns themselves 5 minutes later on the toaster and curses their life to hell then they've not really internalized the vision.

So if spring is a time for change then it's probably a time for re-organization and re-prioritization. Moderation for one. My moderate but overwhelming (see "Sorry, Sugar") dietary change and the cycling is a good start. Actually, travel has slowed down as well which has allowed me time at home to redecorate (another spring step!). I've even changed my musical selections: more Dylan and Chopin Nocturnes, less Coldplay and B-52's.

Does any of it make a difference? In the grand scheme of things I'm starting to feel that it IS the little things, yes. The more I read and comprehend the Tibetan monks who won't go outside during rainy season for fear of killing small worms or washed up insects the more I see that life is give and take. Moderation, moderation, moderation and a healthy dose of appreciation. By participating, consciously, in small change, in the growth of the season, one finds harmony. Spring allows us to see that we don't really need anything at all that isn't abundantly growing already. It's best to appreciate that which is thriving and let the weary harshness of winter fall away -- leave those thoughts to the cold and greed of a different time of life. For you, for me, for anyone the action needn't precisely match the seasons. Through winter's storms and cloudy weather the independent survive to create their annual beauty, announce their will to succeed, harmoniously assert their life-force upon nature itself and give new found energy back to the world.

That's what I want to be part of this spring. What do you want?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chronos Life

"Chronos is clocks, deadlines, watches, calendars, agendas, planners, schedules, beepers. Chronos is time at her worst. Chronos keeps track. ...Chronos is the world's time. Kairos is transcendence, infinity, reverence, joy, passion, love, the Sacred. Kairos is intimacy with the Real. Kairos is time at her best. ...Kairos is Spirit's time. We exist in chronos. We long for kairos. That's our duality. Chronos requires speed so that it won't be wasted. Kairos requires space so that it might be savored. We do in chronos. In kairos we're allowed to be ... It takes only a moment to cross over from chronos into kairos, but it does take a moment. All that kairos asks is our willingness to stop running long enough to hear the music of the spheres."

-- Sarah Ban Breathnach

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I Was An Olympic Orphan

I'm an Olympic Orphan. Stranded with no place to call my home I wandered through darkness seeking the light of the olympic flame in the houses of my friends and acquaintances. You see, most of you reading this don't understand what it's like to live without television. You think that cable-perfect reception is one of those things like electricity and natural gas: a utility. I've made a life-choice to not have cable and hence have orphaned myself from the rest of the viewing population. I'm far from asking you to feel sorry for me. I look at it as a benefit!

At last count, 184 million total, unduplicated viewers, two-thirds of all Americans, watched the Olympics on the networks of NBC Universal last month. I tried to join them after deciding I would adopt various families with whom I would watch (or more ot the point, they were asked to adopt me!). It seemed like the ultimate plan: bring wine, food, or a smile over to various houses and enjoy the world's greatest athletes in action. I did, however, encounter a few unexpected life lessons along the way. Most of them were things that were unforeseen, experiences I learned from. Others were simply ignorance. All were worth experiencing.


First off, my original choice of venues had a major flaw. You see, I planned to watch with a combination of friends (good ol' friends, gotta love 'em) and girlfriends (ok, so you really shouldn't have more than one and maybe that was my issue right there but throw me a bone here). Girlfriends are not to be counted on for two things:
  1. Allowing you to watch a sporting event at their house on-demand
  2. Being your girlfriend at the very time you intend to do so (Murphy's Law)
So I kept my options restricted to three houses of friends who regularly watched the Olympics. They were extraordinarily accomodating and understanding of my plight. But I couldn't invade them every night so I was left with the basic premise that I could watch every 3rd night of the games rather than having the viewing as a nightly event.

Another thing I realized I could not control but which had great impact on the sports: it's not the size of the TV, it's the content available on it. I found that at the houses with TiVo we could watch nearly 3-days worth of content in a single 4-hr evening session. The commercial content during the games was so long that I felt I could have written a short novel during all the breaks at the non-Tivo houses.

On the flip side, I found that having the commericals is what makes the Olympics a crowd-friendly event. It gave us time to talk about life, ethics, Olympic non-sense and family. Is Tivo ruining the concept of the 'group watch-party'? That's not for me to answer here, but food for thought.


The most interesting thing I learned along my journey was that the sports I thought I'd most like to see were both difficult to catch during prime-time and also turned out to be mundane compared to the less popular sports I did get to watch.

Personally I could do without ice dancing, figure skating and the like. However I thought that all the skiing events would be thrilling. I also thought I liked to watch bobsledding. I was wrong on both counts. Turns out that 2-man bobsled is the equivalent of watching a slow yellow schoolbus go down an icy street in Maryland during February. The more interesting sports of luge and the new sport of skeleton were absolutely thrilling, however, and use the same track. I also found that the sports I thought would be mundane were absolutely mesmerizing. This includes long distance ski jumping and cross-country racing. These sports take a while to get through, the athletes are all Norweigian (the US doesn't even have entrants in some of the jumping), and generally you can't tell the difference between half the entrants. But the final moments are what Olympic spirit is all about.

I never really thought much about the athletic prowess needed for a cross-country ski race, I now see it as the marathon of the winter games. It's long, grueling, and mentally and physically taxing. Bravo for those athletes. On the flip-side, ski jumpers tend to have these ridiculous spandex-looking wetsuit-like outfits with 6" of extra crotch-length that gives them more lift. With the giant skis it really makes them the virtual circus clows of the winter games. Giant suit, big floppy shoes... you get the idea.

But irregardless of the outfit-factor, these sports were so much better than what any major network had previously chosen for prime-time. I was quite pleased by my surprise.


This is definitely one I did NOT count on. But the truth is that the winter games on the west-coast were taped delayed. They did not begin until 8pm PST. That's late! When you're talking about 4-hrs of content every night with over an hour of commericals it's exhausting.
  • By the end of the 2-week period my eyes were tired (see the first paragraph above: I'm was not used to watching TV so I hadn't had proper 'training' for this marathon).
  • By the end of the 2-week period my brain was tired from tracking all the athletes -- some of them were in 4 or 5 events, there was drama and politics. Essentially, for 2-weeks every 2 years the Olympics become a world unto themselves. They use the word "village" to describe their living area because it IS one. They have literally created a small community and it's broadcast to a billion folks, worldwide.
  • By the end of the 2-week period my body was tired. First off, eating out every night or every few nights is hard on the digestive system. Combine that with beer and wine (it's a social event, after all!) and some good dessert every other night... well, you get the picture. Now add about 1-2 hours less sleep on those odd nights and you get some quality exhaustion.

A Two-peat?

So the quesiton now becomes: was it worth it and would I do this again? The answer is a definitive yes. For a single individual or even a happy couple, the Olympic Orphan concept is an absolutely wonderful excuse for some quality socializing with friends who you may not have really 'hung out' with. Here's some wisdom I can now impart to the world as a whole:
  • Go in with low expectations. This isn't a formal dinner party; you might see your friends kids in their PJ's (hell, if you're really casual you'll probably see your friends in their PJ's too). The orphan experience is about experiencing a life outside of your own in real action. You might hear spouses argue, you might see cat puke on the rug. You are the observer of both the games and the lives around you. Enjoy.
  • Bring dinner, dessert, wine, or just yourself -- be adaptable. It's really about how you feel. Sometimes I thought the evening would be drunken debauchery and ended up in a casual chat hogging down girlscout cookies or laughing at the crotch-length of the ski jumpers. The reality is, most of us don't socialize over other people's houses, mid-week, for hours upon end. We're so 'in the box' that we only see certain people on the weekends or when their kids are away or with a babysitter. The Olympic Orphan concept is all about breaking those barriers.
  • Watch the sports you've never thought about. This one is extremely important. As mentioned, some of the most entertaining moments for all of us (not just me) during those two weeks were when a new sport came on, an old sport nobody had ever followed came on, or some we thought would be boring ended up bringing the very Olympic spirit we'd been seeking right into the living room.
Mostly, be courteous, be open, be safe and be appreciative that no matter how you might feel during those two weeks every two years there are billions of other folks out there smiling, laughing and getting into the Olympic spirit. Sport of the people? Maybe not. Opportunity for building quality social karma? Absolutely.

Sorry, Sugar

This past week I came to the conclusion that I needed to take a step back from my relationship with Sugar. And whereas I can't really relate to being addicted to heroin or even nicotine I think I now have an idea of what it's like to quit something cold turkey. It's awful and after the bloodstream is cleared it's wonderful.

We were a relationship gone sour: Sugar and I were meshing quite well together every time we initially got together; but over the course of a few hours I started to feel like crap and Sugar was feeling... consumed. The beginning of the end was about a week prior to our breakup. I realized I was seeing too much of Sugar and we didn't quite have the same feelings we used to. It seemed to be going downhill.

And then the big fall-out came. We were stuck together with nobody else around in the Oakland airport for the better part of 6 hrs. I had been thinking about buying a box of See's "Nuts and Chews" (1lb box mind you) and after about an hour of waiting I gave in. As always, Sugar and I had a sweet encounter at first. It was all melted chocolate joy. I even felt confident enough to share Sugar with some other folks in the airport. Now that's confidence in your relationship!

But alas, things went south just a few hours later. I felt ill, guilty; a gluttonous lethargy crept over my soul and I wanted to bury my head and cry for help at the same time. "Oh, Sugar, you'll be the death of me," I thought.

Now, I've been through my share of break-ups. But this one was tough. I told sugar we could talk from time to time. I don't believe that isolation is the key to anything except a good Buddhist meditation retreat. And so we took a few days off. And that became a few more. I often couldn't clear my head. I just drifted from dessert to nuts'n'chews and back again.

As with all good things that come to an end, the pain was lessened with the presence of old friends. Orange and Plum came along and helped me through my highs and lows and evened out the long hours between meals. The worst was after I ate. I was reminded of all the times Sugar and I had shared sweets together after eating. I laughed at the variety of life. I cried at the sadness of being alone. And finally I accepted my life as it was: Sugar-free but happy.

I've returned now from my trip abroad. No more airport-spent hours waiting like potholes of life needing to be filled. My house still has ice cream and there are still 4 boxes of girlscout cookies waiting to be consumed. But I've reached a point of balance once again. Sugar is still there. She always will be there even if just in my memory. But she's not the one in control of my life. She has her own families to deal with; children's mouths to feed; she's an artist with a world of blank powdery white canvas.

I suppose the moral of the story is that only you wake up in your body everyday. And you can treat it as a temple and only give it what's good with some sweet indulgence (as my sister-in-law says, "Moderation in all things including moderation") or you can fret and whine and try to fill an ever-deepening void with more and more emptiness (empty relationship, empty calories). In the end the lesson is quite simple, a cliche of the most overused sort: You are who you eat. So don't eat in desperation. Eat up and enjoy with control, dignity and understanding and you and your Sugar can live happily every after.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Recipe for Smiling

- 1c Feelings of Elation
- 1/2c Lucid pain
- 2t tears
- 1T petting a fuzzy animal repeatedly
- 1/2t healing through silence
- 1-2 pinches meditation
- 6c yoga
- 1c cardiovascular exercise
- 3T thoughts about someone you love
- 1T thoughts about someone you almost loved
- 1/2t realization there are no regrets
- 1/2t realization there's but one life
- 1/2t appreciation for someone special
- 1/2T giving from the heart
- 1/2T opening yourself from the heart
- 10c acceptance
- Pinch of sorry
- Steadfast understanding, to taste

Shift life in a direction you can feel is right in your heart and mind. Mix by hand, slowly the elation and the pain making sure there's an equal mix at a 2:1 ratio of good to bad. Add first few pinches of acceptance and breath deeply. Add tears and pet fuzzy animal. Sit in silence and feel life rush over you like a swallow of the greatest medicine. Proceed to meditation and relax your sense organs. Mix half of yoga and stir. Add cardio. Don't overmix.

Take half of the mixture and add the thoughts about someone you love and the thoughts about someone you almost loved until both are dissolved and you can see there's really no difference if you can love yourself. Add realizations that there are no regrets but those that pity ourselves and that life is special. Whip appreciation to a thick cream and blend into life mix.

Add final giving and smiles from the heart being careful not to break the heart. Add open understanding and acceptance. Carefully and slowly add sorry. Be careful not to add too much sorry as the mix will become bitter. Sift understanding over mix until the taste is just right.

Put in stock pot and simmer for life. Stir often, tasting and smiling as much as possible.

** Note: If you are a male making this recipe be sure that your smiles aren't false ones to hide real emotion. You CAN make this recipe. You just have to know you aren't subject to anyone else's judgement. He/she/it/they can just be let go in lieu of this perfect cuisine.