Monday, April 30, 2012

Well, That Was Stupid

I'm playing around with Google+ I inadvertently erased the folder that contained all of the images for this blog.  Google states that they cannot be recovered, so I'll simply press on.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sei Weng's Horse

Adrift on the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul
I had a conversation with a close friend of mine last week who had ended a relationship with her long-time partner.  She was distraught by the way events had occurred, which caused me to reflect on how we mark life's phases.  It seems that as we move from one phase to another they are separated by moments of great change and upheaval.  We look at these changes in the moment and more often than not classify them as either good or bad.

Years later when we look back on the sign posts that we have passed by our perspective is different, and those changes that we once thought were terrible moments in our lives actually turned out to be necessary for us to move forward and to grow as human beings.  Of course the opposite is true about moments that at the time seemed wonderful, yet years later we realized that without them our lives would have taken an altogether different turn.

It's similar to the Chinese story of Sei Weng's Horse which goes...
     This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, "What makes you think it is so terrible?"
     A month later, the horse came home--this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, "What makes you think this is good fortune?" 
     The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, "What makes you think it is bad?" 
     A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "What makes you think this is good?" said the farmer.

I suppose my point is that our lives exist within the constant flow of change.  Everything all around us is changing from one micro-instant to the next.  It seems futile to attempt to freeze a moment of our lives and then classify it as good or bad, but of course that's what we try to do.  "Change happens."

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Superman waits on the sidewalk for his mother to emerge from the bookstore
I've been looking at thousands of news photographs lately, shot by some of the industry's most notable photojournalists. What's intrigued me is the varying perspectives.  In other words, a rather mundane shot can be enhanced into something incredibly  interesting if the photographer simply changes the perspective.  I viewed some of James Nachtwey's works where he shot an average street scene through the jagged opening of blown-out wall, the rubble of the wall framing the shot, making it far more interesting.

I believe this is where photography can lend itself to life, i.e., if we work to change our perspective than we may see things in a more interesting or enlightened way.  For many, they are attached to their own perspective, seeing it as the one and only truth of the world.  If they could only release themselves from that grasp and move a few inches either way it may open up an entirely different world for them.  What would happen if perspective were applied to politics, religion, social morays, etc.?  I contend that we would have a much more inclusive, tolerant, and compassionate world.  Move a little to the right or left and see what the world looks like then.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I remember when I was a little boy, my father telling me that if in my entire life I had five good friends that I could consider myself lucky.  I thought that odd at the time partly because there were so many people out there, and from my perspective at the time life seemed so long.  Certainly I would amass hoards of friends over my lifetime.

Today I see that that he was giving insight into my personality, which, to my father was an extension of his.  I, like my father, am deeply private, and at the same time sociably social.  As he predicted, I have dozens and dozens of acquaintances, but less than a handful of people that I call friends.  Maybe my definition of a friend is too narrow.  More likely its that I prefer to interact with people on a one-on-one, deeply personal level, and there are just so many people in your life that you can do that with.

The other day my 8-year old son had his best friend over to the house for a sleep over.  My father's words came to mind and I felt happy that his friend was there, the two of them sharing the latest video game or having a Nerf gun war.  I see myself in my son, as my father saw himself in me.  I'm continually surprised how generations to the next.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New 50mm And Nachtwey

I picked up a new Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens for my camera the other day.  Its faster than my 18x200, that has been my travel lens of choice for many years.  The 50mm doesn't have a telephoto option, so it forces me to adjust my position relative to the subject, which is an added challenge for me.  With a telephoto lens I just zoom in or out as necessary, which is some respects has spoiled me a bit.

I watched James Nachtwey's War Photographer the other night and was dumbfounded firstly by his images, but moreover the amount of human suffering that he has borne witness to over his 25+ year career.  His compilation of work, Inferno, is filled with such tragic images that I could barley get through it without having to walk away and settle myself.  Nachtwey has reminded me of the immense human capacity for injuring and killing one another, and just how distant many of our lives are from the day-to-day suffering that occurs in so many places around or world.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Back From Haiti

Back from Haiti now for a week or so.  People ask me how it is there now, and my answer is… "It's Haiti".  The one thing that immediately struck me was the lack of obvious damage from the earthquake.  I really had to look hard to see evidence of the quake.  The Haitians did a very good job of cleaning up the debris, which I suspect that it was all bulldozed into the ocean.

The other observation was simply a lack of gratefulness among the people that I met.  I theorize that its a by-product of receiving so much international aid over the recent years that many Haitians have simply come to expect it.  They no longer see aid as coming from the helping hands of other people, but rather more as an entitlement.  This saddened me more than any thing else, but I suppose it's really my (our own) fault. I question how anyone would be able to find that balance of giving aid or assistance without effecting the cultural values of those that he or she is trying to help. What's the greater evil, withholding needed aid, or irrevocably altering a culture's value system and sense of self-respect?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

He's Having A Heart Attack, Where's My Tourniquet?

Napping Street Vendor in Amman
When was the last time that a domestic executive protection detail had to provide medical care while under  attack?  I'm open to input, but I can't think of a single instance.  Then why are protectors so hell-bent on spending money and time on learning tactical medicine, i.e. providing medical care while under fire?  The answer is that it's fun and sexy, but the hard truth is that it's useless for domestic details.

I'm not saying that tactical medicine does not have it's place, but that place is on SWAT teams, and in military and other high risk environments, not on U.S.-based executive protection details. Security details and contracting protecters are waisting their time and money pursuing those skills.

What kills?  In other words, if you were pushed into any emergency room which common afflictions are going to get you seen right now by an anxious physician because your life is in immediate danger? They are:
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Active seizures
  • Suspected cerebral vascular attack (stroke)
  • Airway compromise:
    • Anaphylaxis (allergic reaction)
    • Foreign body (choking)
    • Pulmonary embolism (not a true airway compromise though)
    • Severe asthma attack
  • Hypoglycemic coma
  • Severe trauma
That's it, everything else can wait.  Take a seat in the waiting room.

How many of these afflictions are discussed in your tactical medicine course?  Trauma of course, but only as it applies to gunshots wounds while under fire, which, as noted, are exceedingly rare.  The rest, which are infinitely more common, are going to kill your client while you stand by with tourniquet and QuikClot in-hand. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Caught In The Middle In Mexico

I spent last week in Mexico City training Mexican security agents in executive protection practices.  I listened carefully to how they went about their daily jobs of moving their clients around, normally in large, expensive, sometimes armored SUVs.  The agents worked mostly alone, at times they had a driver, but that was pretty much it.  In terms of weapons, suffice it to say that they had none.

I can't envision a worse security practice than this.  The Mexican details travel in high-profile, expensive vehicles, but lack the assets to effectively protect any of it.  They might as well be running a CarMax for the drug cartels.  These security details are attacked often for nothing more than their vehicles, sometimes the occupants can be held for ransom, but the expensive, shiny SUVs are the main targets. A fully armored SUV can cost well over $225,000, a lucrative target to say the least.

I attempted to explain the low-profile/high-profile continuum, but it was like talking to a wall.  They saw the wisdom, but are constrained by the desires of the people that they protect.  In other words, the clients want the flash and luxury of the shinny SUVs, but don't want to spend the money on the assets needed to actually protect them.  "Welcome to CarMax, how can we help you?"

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Soon I will start doing some patient care as a paramedic again.  Its been several months since I've practiced, and I've truly missed the experience of caring for patients.  Medicine, for many years, has been a large part of my life and I'm very excited to be practicing once again.

As a Zen Buddhist I try to seek ways to better the world that we live in.  Some are drawn to activism as a tool, attempting to bring change on a larger scale such as the Occupy Movement.  Others, like myself, look to service as a skillful means of helping humanity, working "eyebrow-to-eyebrow" with one person at a time; attempting to make a difference in that person's life or even death.  

I believe that there are few greater places on earth to practice compassion than an inner-city emergency room.  The opportunities are boundless to check your 'ego at the door' and truly help those that believe that they're in need.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ordinary Mind Is The Way

One of the many things that Zen has taught me is that often you can place problem or a decision in your mind and then simply forget about it, walk away.  The problem will churn away in your subconscious and then out of nowhere, maybe while you are brushing your teeth one morning, the answer will become clear, appearing as if the light were suddenly turned on.

I've been given my first koan by my Zen teacher.  A koan is sort of a story, problem, maybe even a single word or a solitary sound that bumps around in your mind.  At times you dig it out, dust it off and play with it in hopes that one day it will lead to a greater understanding or awakening.  Koans cannot be solved by rational thought no matter how hard one tries.  Regardless of how intelligent your ego believes that you are, the more your mind chases the further you become from the truth.

My koan is Nansen's Ordinary Mind is the Way.  

Jōshu, a student addresses his teacher, Nansen…

Jōshu asked, "What is the Way?"

Nansen said, "Ordinary [or Everyday] Mind is the Way."

Jōshu asked, "How do I approach [or reach] it?"

Nansen said, "The more you try and get to it the further away you get."  

  Jōshu asked, "Then how do I know if it is the Way or not?"

Nansen said, "Knowing is a delusion; Not knowing is just indifference.  When you reach the true way beyond doubt it is vast and open as the sky.  How could it be a matter of affirming or negating it?"

Jōshu had some awakening.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Teacher

I learned yesterday that my bagpipe teacher of many years, Winter Taylor, suddenly passed away in Atlanta.  I was heart broken and saddened beyond words at the news.  Winter (I refused to call her Winnie) had spent countless hours with me in her basement studio working on fixing my great lack of musical talent.  She was kind, supportive and most of all truly patient.  A better teacher I could not have had.

I picked up my practice chanter yesterday evening and ran through some of the tunes that Winter had helped me with.  Her words echoed in my mind as if she were sitting right next to me, admonishing me to make every note clean, crisp, and clear.  She was a great proponent of simple music played well instead of flashy tunes played sloppily.  

As I played, working through our favorite piobaireachd- MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart's Lament, I came to understand the special relationship between a student and his teacher, and that her words and spirit continue to live within me and my sometimes sloppy fingering.  I can't help but smile.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Yagyu's Answer

Peace & Serenity
I recently listened a group discussion that vilified "the militarism of society", which I took to mean the military, it's culture, and other supporting cast members that surround it.  I listened thoughtfully to the words and ideas that flowed from the participants, careful not to interject my own experiences of uniformed service so as not to damper or influence the conversation in any way.  The prevailing tone was that of liberation theology, the political theory which interprets traditional religious teachings in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. This is to say that the participants were highly critical of government, capitalism, corporate culture, popular news media, or pretty much anything that could be widely interpreted  as adding to the disenfranchisement of the poor and suffering. 

After the talk closed I spent a day considering what I had listened to and arrived at the conclusion that the participants lacked any real, direct experience with the military, and were simply regurgitating thoughts and ideas that they had absorbed from others who had little or no direct contact either.  I feel that in many ways I should have spoken up, that I had betrayed my own experiences through my inactions.  

The obvious rebuttal is the the story of Yagyu Munenori's life-giving sword. Yagyu was a widely renowned sword instructor to two Tokugawa shoguns during their reign over midevel Japan.  His spiritual mentor was the Zen Buddhist priest, Takuan who assisted Yagu in the realization that a sword can both take a life as well as give one.  The life-giving sword is the idea that it is best to control an opponent by the spiritual readiness to fight rather than during an actual fight where lives will be lost.  From this idea grew the saying that we utilize today, "If you have to fight, you have already lost".  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Four Reliances

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a public talk given by a very learned man; one who has spent a great deal of his adult life in serious study on the subject of his discourse.  In listening I realized that I had many deep and  fundamental objections to what was being said, his points, most shaded in political dogma, I found distasteful. 

Clearly I had my own hard-fought experiences on the subject matter and believed that, while the speaker was well-versed, he was simply wrong on so many points.  I searched within myself and identified my attachments to my own points of view, and it was these attachment that were causing my discomfort. I suppose the take-away for me was simply the process of recognizing my own attachments and then letting them go, listening with an open mind to what was being said instead on playing "point, counter-point" in my mind. 

Tonight in my reading I ran across The Four Reliances:

Do not rely merely on the person, but on the words;
Do not rely merely on the words, but on their meaning;
Do not rely merely on the provisional meaning , but on
      the definitive meaning; and
Do not rely merely on intellectual understanding, but on the direct experience.    

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Long Way To Go

Ironman triathlon training is taking up a good bit of time these days.  I'm swimming, biking, running and lifting 12-14 hours a week, working on building a solid aerobic base for when the training begins in ernest in late February leading up to a June race.  This is such a crazy sport, the time and monetary investment is massive, and it changes your entire life.  Everything is effected; diet, sleep, job, family.  You live in a constant state of mild soreness and fatigue.

Its not the fact that a triathlete can race 140.6 miles in 10 hours that is impressive, but rather he or she has juggled every aspect of their life over the preceding several months to successfully get themselves to the starting line.  The race, as many experienced athletes will attest to, is actually a relief.  In the forefront of your mind you know that it's the last time you will have to don a pair of goggles and dive into early morning cold water, or worry about maintaining the appropriate running pace for a very long time. For now, at least, that relief is far away.  There is a ton of work to do between now and late June.  Heading out on a bike ride now before it starts to snow. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back on the Cushion

Sunset on Hayden Lake, Idaho
I'm planning on getting back on the cushion tonight, having let myself get away from my practice  over the past year or so. I'm a bit nervous but plan to attend a sitting at the the Ancient Dragon Zen Gate Soto Zen Center in Chicago.

In the past I've been astonished how easy it is to pick up my zazen practice having gone weeks or months without actively sitting.  It's almost as if you accumulate a familiraty with the practice, and it abides quietly inside of you waiting for your inevitable return.  The feeling reminds me of a faithful pet waiting patiently at the door for its owner to return home from work.  There's a bit of elated tail wagging, forgiveness, and then its as if the owner never left; comfort and peace prevail.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lives of Lobsters

I spoke with a friend of mine the yesterday who is serving as a contractor in Iraq.  We were discussing compassion and how all life is precious.  He is confronting himself with the fact that he's carrying a gun for a reason and one day may be asked to use it.  If all life is precious what about the person that he may have to shoot?

We chatted and both came to the conclusion that the life of a mass murderer and that of a three-year old child are equally precious, one in the same in fact.  Carrying it further I relayed that I took the lives of three lobsters the other night while preparing dinner.  I did it mindfully and with respect and humanity (odd word there).  There is no difference between the lobsters and any other living creature… they are one in the same.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fodder For Morality

From the NY Times this morning:

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

Off The Cushion

Sitting in Starbucks this morning I was contemplating a topic for a blog post when a guy dressed in wanna-be military garb sits down beside me and announces, "Ya know, if you were here thirty minutes ago there wasn't a black person in here".  Bingo…. you're my blog post of the day.  Are you kidding me?!  I thought guys like this only existed in the movies, and certainly not in southwest Atlanta where the populace is well-over 90% African American.

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

Good Vibrations

There are some people that radiate great energy and positive vibrations regardless of the circumstances.  Last night while attending a function in downtown Atlanta I watched a late 60-something Asian woman flit around the room with a hundred other guests at a banquet dinner.  She stood out to me because she carried with her a massive, beaming smile, and seemed to care little of what people thought of her.  To me, she was the walking personification of peace and self-confidence, my favorite two attributes in a person. 

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

Boone Soon

I'm in the process of putting together a springtime cycling trip to Boone, North Carolina.  I plan to spend about a week riding through what I believe is one of the most special places on the east coast.  I've been to Boone a few times in the past and have always been struck by the natural beauty of the surrounding area.  What sealed the deal for me was in Lance Armstrong's biography, It's Not About the Bike, he spoke of riding in Boone after his comeback from cancer, stating that it was Boone that made him fall in love with cycling again. I'm excited.