Friday, March 11, 2011
WASHINGTON — Statistics compiled by the American-led military mission in Afghanistan indicate that 2,537 civilians were killed and 5,594 were wounded in 2009 and 2010, according to a study released Thursday.
Official military statistics provided to Science magazine show that about 88 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan over the past two years were caused by insurgents, while about 12 percent were the fault of American and coalition forces.
What's the argument here, that they kill more innocent people than we do, so somehow we are "more right"? Having spent most of my adult life as a serving military officer I understand full-well about civilian casualties in war, but this argument has no place in the public space. Using innocent civilian statistics to somehow morally justify a nation's actions seems obscene to me. Every civilian fatality, regardless of who is at fault, should be treated with the same moral importance as those of fallen U.S. service members, and not be used as fodder for who's right and wrong arguments.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
For the next twenty minutes I was treated to an unsolicited ear-full of how when the gas prices go up all of the blacks are going to leave, and how all of the kids at the school bus stops have babies in their arms. I struggled to exfiltrate myself from the conversation but part of me, like driving past a car wreck, wanted to hear this guy's destructive, hate-filled rant.
I contemplated loving kindness and how this guy, as misguided as I believed he was, deserved my compassion. It's easy to love the world's down-trodden and unfortunate, but when faced with someone that is the victim of his own limited mind, the task becomes much more difficult. How do you show compassion for someone that you find so distasteful?
The other take away for me was the question of why do I find his rant so offensive in the first place? Clearly I'm attached to my viewpoints, and when confronted with such a dramatically different perspective I quickly retract and begin to judge and form opinions.
Buddhism is a wonderful thing, and when sitting on a cushion its simple to follow it's tenants. Applying the same in the reality of a crowded Starbucks is a bit more challenging.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The highlight for me was when the woman raided the dessert table even before people were settling in for their first course. I laughed and commented that she may have her dinner courses mixed up, only to see her grin and retort, "No, it's everyone else that's mixed up".
Throughout the long evening I watched with great curiosity as this tiny woman continued to smile and walk her own path. Towards the end of the event she left the function and ventured out into the nighttime on a solo exploration of the botanical garden's orchard exhibit, a wonderful display of moving through life on her own terms. She made my night.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Theistic faith demands belief in things that cannot be known. Direct knowledge and experience with the previously unknown now moves faith into the realm of confidence, therefor it can be said that knowledge destroys faith. Does it work the other way around as well, can faith overcome knowledge? Now we are in the world of miracles, the unexplained alteration of reality that runs counter to all knowledge.
Faith in my opinion, resides in the soul and is limitless while confidence emanates from the mind and is clearly bound by finite points. Therefor one's confidence in himself or the world around him extends only so far as his personal observation and experience, while his faith appears to be endless.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
|Port au Prince's shattered Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption|
My first reaction was, "You are all coming from church. Maybe you should turn around and pay greater attention to the sermon on compassion and loving kindness". I suppose I expected a greater degree of compassion from a crowd that was just exiting a Sunday service. Adjectives that leaped to mind were "hypocritical" and "arrogant".
Reading Timothy Keller's book, The Reason For God the author offered up this explanation, "Churches are hospitals for sinners, not museums for saints". It all became clear reading Keller's words. Why should I expect greater compassion from someone that is a devout attendee of a church service? Would I expect to find healthy people in the hospital emergency room? It was a good lesson.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Guilt, as defined by one Buddhist scholar, Rudy Harderwijk, is "seeing or projecting one's mistakes, while not knowing what to do about them or refusing to correct them". To paraphrase Harderwijk, Buddhism views this as a disturbing attitude, i.e. coming about from the practitioner that is not seeing the situation clearly. Self-deprecating guilt may be seen as a complicated version of self-centeredness, which Buddhism addresses quite thoroughly.
Going back, the concept of guilt appears to be foreign to the pure human condition, having grown from it's prominent place in the Judeo/Christian tradition, e.g. the original sin. Guilt of this type is learned, imposed by society and culture. As noted by Harderwijk, " The Tibetans don't even have a word for it". If this is the case guilt becomes a culturally imposed type of mental frustration, one which Buddhism teaches us to overcome through practice and seeing reality in its true form.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I've come to believe that morality and ethics have no relation to age nor intelligence. As a matter of fact, if there is a relationship at all its probably inversely related. As an example, with increasing frequency, white-collar corruption seems to be the crime of choice of the baby boom generation.
How is it that intelligent people loose their moral compass that they once had when they were young? Do some believe that ethics and morality are inherent within intelligence and therefore any decision that they make must be automatically ethical? Maybe intelligence trumps morality and a few are somehow smarter than those that have spent lifetimes defining and framing ethical and moral issues. I'm unsure. All I know is that there is far too much dishonesty in our world, however we all thankfully have the power to change that, one truth at a time.
Addendum: I posted to the blog and then went out on a long trail run. During my jaunt through the woods I began to wonder where on the Spiritual-Intellectual-Physical triangle does morality and ethics lie? It seems clear to me that they are more aligned with the spiritual rather than the intellectual, which explains why learning ethics in the classroom was so much noise for me. You can't learn moral behavior and ethics without something touching your soul.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Today I look back on my life and see this pattern repeated over and over again, my Special Forces career, two graduate schools, Ironman triathlon, emergency medicine, etc. Along the way I've sacrificed horrendously to be able to achieve those goals. Again, was it worth it? Only time will tell. Catch me at the end of my days and I'll let you know.
Of course the desire for the long-term runs counter to some basic Buddhist principles of living in the present moment and letting go of your attachment to desires. This has been the subject of great contemplation lately. Should I give up that bowl of ice cream for dessert in pursuit of my goal of running a sub-10 hour Ironman? What about passing on spending time with my parents so that I can get a long weekend of workouts in? Where does the line get drawn? Again, sacrifice, balance, the Middle Way. Much to consider.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
As the lead paramedic this was my scene to control and orchestrate; decisions were made and treatments started according to the very latest in resuscitation literature and guidelines. The woman was placed in the ambulance with ongoing good CPR by one of the EMTs; rhythm strips, IV's, drugs, endotracheal tube, shocks, more drugs. Despite our efforts the woman wasn't responding and was pronounced shortly after our arrival at the hospital.
Sitting alone in the ambulance I worked on my report trying to remember the details of the call. Quickly I became hyper-critical of my performance, thinking about what I could have done differently, anything that would have led to a better outcome. I beat myself up for several minutes going over the events in my mind, until finally I looked down at my clipboard and saw the woman's smiling face on her drivers license staring up at me. I remembered that I had hastily grabbed the card from her son so that at least I would have a name when I arrived at the hospital. She smiled at me as if to say, "Hey you did the very best that you could, so stop beating yourself up". In a moment I realized that the call wasn't about me and my performance but rather the woman who was somehow forgiving me, smiling from a piece of plastic. I pushed my report aside and strode back into the hospital to seek out her son. I think that's what she would have wanted me to do.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Recently I've come to believe that, at least for me, these "ahhh moments" are the voice of God talking to me in a quiet and deeply personal way, urging me to live in the moment that he has provided for me, sharing it with him. God has cleared away life's distractions so that I can exist in this very moment of time, where objects, actions and ideas suddenly become clear and understood.
It has taken me 47 years to come to this point of understanding, but looking back I can see similar moments of perfection and peace where the hand of God was fully present in my life.
- A rainy Sunday afternoon exploring the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- Down in the aerobars, hammering along the sun-scorched roads near Homestead, Florida. A seemingly unending reservoir of power and strength in my legs.
- My first taste of Laphroaig.
- Browsing the stacks of a Tampa bookstore and out of no where experiencing my first glimpse (kensho) of understanding the Zen Buddhist concept of "nothingness". It dropped me to my knees and made me laugh out loud.
- An afternoon meal at La Mar restaurant in Lima, Peru.
- Looking a young Haitian boy in the eyes as he struggles with his crutches. He smiles at me.
- Walking through the dripping jungle directly underneath the massive Iguazu waterfall.
- Coming off the open ramp of a C-130 in the middle of the night with a few hundred pounds of stuff strapped all over me. Following the "chem lights" down into the darkness.
- A train ride across the Australian Outback at sunset; in an observation car drinking beer with 20 other warriors watching to world clack by. Someone put on Johnny Cash singing, "I've Been Everywhere".
- An early morning walk in the Maine woods after a snowstorm. Peace.
- A 16" Brown Trout rising in a misty, morning stream to take a perfectly placed dry fly.
- A recent five days
- My father's laugh
- Standing in the middle of Chile's, Salar de Atacama on an indigo evening listening to the blood rushing through my ears. A single star, then… breathtaking.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
|Istanbul's Blue Mosque|
- The Vatican: The ecclesiastical state, center of the Catholic Church.
- Kyaiktiyo Pagoda: A well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar. The pagoda's Golden Rock seems to defy gravity, as it perpetually appears to be on the verge of rolling down the hill. According to legend the Golden Rock itself is precariously perched on a strand of the Buddha's hair.
- Jerusalem: A holy city to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- Mecca's Grand Mosque: The holiest mosque in Islam.
- Lalibela, Ethiopia: One of Ethiopia's holiest cities and a center of pilgrimage. The city was intended to be a New Jerusalem in response to the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims, and many of its historic buildings take their name and layout from buildings in Jerusalem.
- Hardiwar, India: One of the holiest places for Hindus. Millions of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists congregate in Haridwar to perform ritualistic bathing on the banks of the river Ganges to wash away their sins.
- Hagia Sophia, Istanbul: From 360 A.D. a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey.
- Canterbury Cathedral: One of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England. The cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England.
- Chimney Rock: Rising nearly 300 feet above the surrounding North Platte River. It served as a landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail.
- Ulura: Ayers Rock, sacred to the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, the Aboriginal people of the area.
- Mauna Kea: The peaks of the island of Hawaii are sacred, and Mauna Kea is the most sacred of all. An ancient law allowed only high-ranking tribal chiefs to visit its peak.
- Allahbad, India: A site of Hindu pilgrimage, believed to be the spot where Brahma offered his first sacrifice after creating the world.
- Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya: The Buddhist temple marking the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment.
- Lumbini, Nepal: The place where Queen Mayadevi is said to have given birth to Siddhartha Gautama, who as the Buddha Gautama founded the Buddhist tradition.
- Potala Palace, Lhasa: The spiritual home of the Tibetan people. The Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India.
- Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas, never found by he invading Spanish.
- Qufu, China: The hometown of Confucius, who is traditionally believed to have been born at nearby Mount Ni.
- Tsubaki Grand Shrine: The principal Shinto shrine of the deity Sarutahiko-no-Ōkami and one of Japan's oldest shrines.
- Meoto Iwa: The Loved One Rocks; a couple of small rocky stacks in the sea off Futami, Mie, Japan. Joined by a shimenawa (a heavy rope of rice straw) they are considered sacred by Shinto worshipers. The rocks represent the union of Izanagi and Izanami, therefore, celebrate the union in marriage of man and woman.
- Mt. Fuji: The iconic symbol of Japan and considered one of its holiest mountains.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
"Balance" for me has always been an equilateral triangle with each point representing the Physical, the Spiritual, and the Intellectual. I seek to spend equal amounts of effort developing the points so that the triangle remains in relative balance. How many people do we know that are superior athletes, but spiritually or ethically bankrupt; or highly educated that cannot run a single mile?
My absolute basic level of fitness that I seek to maintain is the ability to, at any given time:
- Ride a solo century on my triathlon bike in under 6 hours
- Swim 3,500 yards in open water with little effort
- Run 8-minute miles all day long
My spiritual point of the triangle has always been the most difficult to maintain. Lately I've worked hard to bolster my previous shortcomings:
- Daily Buddhist practice of sitting or zazen
- Zen Buddhist retreats
- Fly fishing
- Art, specifically photography
- Reading both Buddhist and Christian works, identifying commonalities and considering the differences.
My intellectual pursuits are often my favorites and generally pertain to medicine and language training:
- The Difficult Airway Course
- 12-Lead EKG Interpretation
- Pathophysiology - Never far away
- Blogs and Podcasts that I follow: EMCrit, Dr. Smith's EKG Blog, and ResusME.
- Maintaining my Spanish at an acceptable level, while developing my Japanese, Arabic, and soon Mandarin Chinese.
- I have planned a Ph.D. sometime in my future
Saturday, February 19, 2011
I watched for several minutes, not able to pull myself away. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was somehow looking at myself sometime in the future. A wave of peaceful calm washed over me, like a sudden realization; a moment of clarity, of presence… perfection. God was speaking to me… softly but he was clearly there in this moment with me.
Soon the man confidently stood, plucked his Oakleys from the table, and turned to look directly into my eyes and smiled. I somehow knew at that very moment that the best part of my life is still yet to come.
Friday, February 18, 2011
|Apache over Baghdad|
My life has always been about the pursuit of the extraordinary, and I humbly submit that this idea has served me more than just well. I tell young people all of the time, at the first opportunity go out and do the hardest thing that you can think of, whether that's an Ironman triathlon, getting an advanced degree, or trekking some remote mountain slope. Set yourself up for an extraordinary life. Don't accept the mundane. Take the path less traveled, and carry your own pack along the way.
None of this is to say that we all have to be globetrotting, adventure seekers to have an extraordinary life. Be an extraordinary parent, partner, son or daughter. Take whatever you have and make it that much more special. Set exceptionally high goals for yourself. Never compromise or accept excuses. If you found yourself on your deathbed today could to look back with a massively satisfied grin? Would you know that you had lived and loved at a level that most only dream of?
One of my favorite stories that I tell has me, as a young Captain, sitting down over a couple of beers in a dusty Panamanian bar with my Special Forces battalion commander. It was just the two of us; the older Lieutenant Colonel was weaving tale after tale of a lifetime of doing the King's bidding in Latin America, stories of intrigue, adventure, sacrifice, and failure. At a point I looked at him and stated, "Sir, you should write a book". He smiled and with the wisdom of age replied, "I would, but I don't want my mother knowing what I've done". Awesome.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
My friend is an young, exceptionally bright, and industrious guy who has bank-rolled a ton of money over the years while working for American contractors. He, quite frankly, has the means to do anything that he wants to in this country. I've spoken with him in the past about this opportunity and his dream has always been to open a convenience store in a small, non-Muslim neighborhood someplace in the United States and enjoy a life of security and opportunity for his young family.
When looking at prospective landing places in the United States he confided in me that he and his wife were looking through a picture book and came across a photograph of someone holding an umbrella during a rain storm. That became his other criteria; he wants to go someplace where it rains a lot. I smiled.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
|Early dawn in the Middle East|
Things that I know:
God abides in each of us, speaking softly in his own time. We just have to lessen the background noise so that we can hear him.
Deeds are far greater than words. I hear too many people just passing gas for affect. Mean what you say, and do it.
Reduce the noise and enjoy life as it's happening right now. Our constant dialogue with ourselves prevents us from living in the present moment, a concept that both the Buddha and Jesus preached.
Impatience is simply an extension of our egos. It's a manifestation of us wanting something, and wanting it right now. Calm down, breath, and examine the emotion objectively. It soon goes away.
We need very little; food, air, sunshine, water, and a place to sleep. Everything else is a bonus. Delineate needs from wants. The difference is staggering.
Be critical of yourself, but also be gentle and forgiving.
Don’t be critical of others, but still be gentle and forgiving.
A 16-inch Brown Trout rising out of misty, serene waters to take a perfectly placed dry fly is God yelling at us to smile.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Must there be personal sacrifice in order for a deed to be considered service, and if so, does the greater the sacrifice lead to a greater degree of service? Or is it the other way around, can a great good with no personal sacrifice be considered service?
I've been reading much about service to God. Does he require a sacrifice from us? What if I tithed $25/week to a church, or spent a lifetime on my back painting the ceiling Sistine Chapel, which is the greater service to God? I do not know?
I spent twenty years, two months, two weeks, and a day in a uniform, the vast majoring it that time as a Green Beret. I sacrificed horrendously, but at the same time I gained much in return. Was this service and to whom?
Tacked up on my old team room wall...
"Men sleep peaceably
in their beds at night
only because rough men stand
ready to do violence on
- George Orwell
Sunday, February 13, 2011
It wasn't far and it wasn't fast, but I felt my lungs expanding, my legs burning, and a gentle calm settling over my mind. I concentrated on my breathing, letting thoughts come and go, not following any of them. The next thing I knew I was face-planted into the dirt having tripped over a hidden root. So much for moving meditation. Nonetheless, the fall was a not so gentle reminder to stay in the present moment, nature's (God's?) very own kyôsaku.
I got up, covered with dirt, blood, and probably a bit of horse dung and moved on; ego bruised, but that's a good thing right now. At the end of the trail I was breathless, in pain, and covered with nature. I felt like a warrior again.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
As April approaches I'm planning a trip to Boone, North Carolina to get some needed hill work in. A number of years ago I read Lance Armstrong's biography and took note of the fact that it was riding in Boone that made him to fall in love with cycling again after coming back from cancer. Since then, I've always considered Boone a stop on the spiritual cycling path. Looking forward to it.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I was taught by my teachers to sit, which is what I've been doing lately. What I've realized is that you can become comfortable with your impatience. In other words, just sit and watch it for a while, pay attention to how it manifests itself within you. How does it physically feel? Where does it come from, and more importantly, where does it go when it leaves? I've found that looking objectively at such feelings may not make them go away, but it does allow you to become friends with them, accept them, and not to be threatened by them.
Impatience, like all emotions; happiness, sadness, jealousy are just temporary and only exist in our minds. They are not tangible, we cannot hold them, so what we choose to do with them is our decision. I choose to sit with them and make them my friends.
Monday, February 7, 2011
This city has always spoken to me. It is one of the first landing points of Zen Buddhism in the western hemisphere, and when I'm here I endeavor to visit the San Francisco Zen Center, and pay tribute to it's founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Coming here is a bit like coming home to my spiritual roots. It's a good and needed stop.
Friday, February 4, 2011
As I wrote in a previous post, God has been speaking to me for my entire life through various means, but only now as an adult have I cleared my mind and soul to the point where I can really sit and listen to him. I can look back and see where he has reached out to me. The parable of the Boy and the Starfish comes to mind. Today when I relay the story to people I can barely hold back my unexplained emotions; it's that powerful for me. Clearly God wanted it to touch me, to have meaning. I do not know why.
Right now God is speaking to me through those "Ahhh moments", glimpses of deeper understanding, recognition, and patience. I am learning to sit quietly with my fears and shortcomings; examine them, become familiar with them. I take solace in knowing that I am not alone in the journey.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Over the past week I've wrestled with a lot of things in my life; I've sought better clarity, understanding, peace, and grace. All things that if God exists, I believe that he would want me to find... on my own. I've taken time to sit quietly in a style that I was taught and to clear my mind of the incessant noise. At the end of the day, once the noise stops and everything just simply exists as it truly is; I found God.
I can't describe in words what I've come to understand, but I've realized that God has been there my entire life, speaking to me in countless ways, but I've just failed to listen. Those who know me are not that surprised (smile).
The picture above is of a boy named Sebastián. I found him in a camp in Port-au-Prince not to long after Haiti's horrific earthquake, and only days after doctors had removed one of his legs above his knee. He was completely alone in the world, having lost his entire extended family. When we met he was still struggling with his new crutches, hobbling around the muddy camp making friends, sleeping and eating where he was able.
Sebastián and I chatted as best we could given the language barrier. He smiled as we fist-bumped, and in his eyes I saw something; something that until only a few days ago I could not identify. It was God speaking to me through this child.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
|Osorno, near Puerto Montt, Chile|
Now, things are quiet. I'm able to once again sit in stillness and stare down my ego when needed, watching as if a parent were monitoring a young child playing in the park. Ever mindful.
I have just finished Harvey Cox's When Jesus Came To Harvard. It turned out to be a wonderful book extrapolating moral choices from the time of the historical Jesus and applying them to the world that we share today.
In my pack I also have a copy of Lama Suyra Das' Awakening the Buddha Within; and SIT, The Zen Teachings of Master Taisen Deshimaru. Both books I've read before, especially Surya Das' which remains a beacon in my on-going yearly pilgrimages toward greater spirituality.
Central to it all is simply sitting, quietly and peacefully, watching my thoughts as they erupt from my mind like a movie theater popcorn machine. The breath comes and goes. I sit and watch.
Monday, January 31, 2011
|Argentine-Chilean border. The gateway to Patagonia|
For years I've understood Musashi's meaning, but only insofar as it has applied to medieval Japanese warfare. The 17th Century "Sword Saint" on one level is stating that a warrior must engage in battle with the full realization that he will die. Only then can he cast off egotistical thoughts of self-preservation and truly be victorious. Contemplating Musashi further, a deeper understanding emerges, one that applies to all things in life. You must transcend your personal desires in order to wholly realize what life offers to you, otherwise your experiences are limited by your own sense of self-preservation.
Carrying Musashi's lesson into my life, I've recently come to understand that in any human relationship you must be willing to leave it, walk away at any moment if need be. With this in mind, only then can you devote yourself wholly to your partner and the relationship which you share. Otherwise your ego, occupied with protecting what you have, screams out in a yelp of self-protection, fingers squeezing tightly as the water runs out from in between.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
I lost one of those friends yesterday morning, and I am saddened beyond all words and expressions. Of course I've known loss in my life, but nothing remotely to the extent of this. At the news I sat for a very long time feeling the tears pour freely down my face onto my shirt. The loss is complete and totally unexpected, so much so that I expect to carry this emptiness with me for the remainder of my days.