Thursday, February 24, 2011


We've all had them.  They're familiar to us, we recognize them when we're in "the moment".  Some refer to them as the "ahhh moments" of our life, which I believe sums the feeling up perfectly.  More objectively maybe, moments of clarity, greater understanding, perfection, realization.  Without being a poet, these moments in our lives are difficult to explain to one another, however we all know them.

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. 

 More lists:
  • 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
Not long ago I took a trip around the world, and one of the places that I visited was Varanasi, India.  I was struck by not only how dirty the city was, but the overwhelming deep sense of spirituality that seemed to permeate everything.  I asked a co-worker and he explained to me that Varanasi was one stop on an informal route that backpackers often trek seeking to visit the most spiritual places in the world.  This got me thinking, what would my list of spiritual destinations look like?  I've come up with...
  • 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

    The Path To Balance

    At about midnight last night I awoke from a deep sleep, realizing that my personal journey towards a balanced life is all but complete. I laid in the dark and smiled to myself, happy with the path that I had just walked and continue on today.

    "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?

    For me...

    The Physical:
    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
    The Spiritual:
    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.
    The Intellectual:
    My intellectual pursuits are often my favorites and generally pertain to medicine and language training:

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    God Drinks Starbucks

    This morning sitting on the patio at Starbucks I watched an older gentleman wander up and take a seat alone at a table not too far away from my own.  He remained there for a long time sipping his "tall" coffee and reading a Kindle.  By way of description, he was clearly in his mid-seventies, partially shaved head, tan, tall with a very lean and muscled body of an athlete.  Casually dressed in cargo shorts and a polo jersey he sat in the wooden chair  enjoying the sunshine, Oakley sunglasses on the table in front of him.

    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

    Let Go Of The Ordinary

    Apache over Baghdad
    I'm terrible.  I'm now getting lifestyle advice from television commercials. This morning over coffee and my daily dose of CNN I overheard a travel commercial claiming, "Let go of the ordinary and grab a hold of the extraordinary.  Be who you could be, not who you used to be".  What a great mantra for life!

    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

    A Voice From The Past

    I was contacted by an Iraqi friend of mine who has the opportunity to immigrate himself, his wife, and his young son to the United States as part of an official U.S. Government program to help out those Iraqis that have assisted us in the past.

    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

    Not Quite Complete

    Early dawn in the Middle East

    Even a cursory review of recent posts to this blog reveals an author who is searching for something, a deeper meaning of those things around him, a balance within his life, centeredness.   In some respects, that is the purpose of this blog, to document my journey forward.  Over the past month or so I have sat at a crossroads in my life and have sought direction into the future.  I’ve looked inwardly as a Zen Buddhist, and remarkably have found God sitting within my silence.   I’ve re-examined those things that have been important to me, and have made peace with my faults.  It’s been an unspeakable journey of depth and grace, yet it is still not complete.

    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


    In my wallet I carry my U.S. military retirement ID card; its my go-to piece of identification when required.  Occasionally people will look at it and give me a heartfelt, "Thank you for your service".  I've asked myself lately, what is service?  So many organizations, from schools, churches, the Boy Scouts, and even prisons are preaching service theses days, but I'm not sure what it is that they are preaching.

    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
    their behalf".

    - George Orwell

    Sunday, February 13, 2011


    I decided to brave the 58 degree sunny weather and go for a trail run through the Chattahoochee Hills along the river. The horse trail works its way through the forest, up and down hills, and along the banks of the serene water way.  It felt good to get out and push myself again, I haven't done so  since I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru before Christmas.

    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

    Back In The Saddle

    The weather is going to be nice in Atlanta this week.  I'm destined to take my tri-bike and start putting some very early springtime miles on it.  I've been off my bike for the past handful of months and I feel that it's time to reacquaint myself with the saddle again.  There's nothing quite like mile after mile of cycling along country roads, alone with your thoughts, pushing yourself to just the right amount of pain.

    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

    Making Friends

    During a dinner last night I was asked what it is that I'm not good at.  The first thing that sprang to mind was… being patient.  This has always been my challenge and even today I struggle greatly with it as my friends will readily attest to.   How does one learn patience?  I saw a TV commercial the other day in which the characters were watching grass grow, turtles racing, and waiting in line at the DMV in order to learn this elusive skill. Sadly there are no turtles near-by so I'm stuck with my own devices.

    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

    San Francisco

    It's been two years since I've been to San Francisco. What a great city! Just walking down the street I passed a Michelin-starred restaurant only a few blocks from my hotel, so I now have dinner plans for tomorrow night!

    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

    Once Again

    My view or understanding of God is my own, it's deeply personal.  It may or may not conform with current religious dogma, but frankly I don't care.  I feel that God exists in each and every one of us in his own way, making himself known in his own time.  This is my relationship with God.  Maybe it's better to say "my God" instead of just the singular, one-size fits all God.  I don't know.

    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


    As a child, I was taught that God was some bearded guy that hung out on a golden throne somewhere in the sky and oversaw the events of the Universe; I often confused him with Santa Claus.  That's a great image for a 6-year old, but it's no wonder that as an adult I have questioned his existence, especially in the face of personally witnessed poverty, war, strife, disease, etc…  How can a benevolent God allow his children to be so self-destructive?

    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


    “I long for scenes where man has never trod, a place where woman never smiled or wept. There to abide with my Creator God and sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept, untroubling and untroubled. Where I lie the grass below, above, the vaulted sky.”

    -John Clare

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Settle Into Quietness

    Osorno, near Puerto Montt, Chile
    When I took my Zen Buddhist vows I was given the name So Enjaku by my teacher, he pointed to a mountain; unmoving, settled sitting in quietness.  Lately I have been seeking to return to that peacefulness, to find my center and abide in stillness.  Tragically I had let it all slowly slip from me over the past two months,  allowing my ego to run amok within my life.

    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.