Category Archives: My Story

Dukkha

Dukkha is the Pali word originally translated as suffering.  Pali is the ancient Indian language, along with Sanskrit, used to write down the discourses of the Buddha.  Usage of Pali tended to move south to Sri Lanka and South Asia, while Sanskrit was incorporated in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism.

The Buddhist group I attend is  part of the Theravada tradition, most of those bringing it to the west studied in Sri Lanka or Thailand.  There are differences, but to me the differences can be compared to Lutherans and Baptists.  The essential message is the same.

Dukkha is central to Buddhism.  It can’t be precisely translated.  Discontent, craving, anxiety, dissatisfaction, suffering, and hopelessness are typical translations.  I’m sure you get the idea, we all experience dukkha.  The goal of Buddhism is the end of dukkha.  Without dukkha, a person is totally in the moment, seeing life as it is, not how our egos want it to be.   All our lives, we are attempting to shape our world into what we have decided it should be.  Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Therefore we live lives of striving or despair because things aren’t what we think they should be.  Well, things are what they are.  That’s all.  I want comfort, security, love, time for adventure, and no Japanese Beetles.  I have love, but the other things seem to be lacking somewhere.  Perhaps the best illustration is the difference between pain and suffering.  My knee hurts, my fingers are getting stiff, and I itch.  I’m human, that stuff is inevitable.  I don’t want it to be true.  I get upset when I itch, and the damn Japanese Beetles won’t go away.  I feel discontent.

Insight Meditation is the practice of sitting and following the breath.  Just the breath.  Not thinking about ice cream, the breath.  When thoughts about ice cream or anything else arise, simply return to the breath.  Later, when thoughts arise, observe them without engaging them and watch them pass away.  That itch in the left ear canal, observe it and note it goes away.  Or not.

The key is not getting involved with the itch.  It is an itch over which I have no control.  I want to stick a Q-tip in there, but it won’t help.  The itch does what it will.  Let it be.  Chill, dude.  Am I good at this?  Not so much.  That’s why it is called a practice.  I have noticed some progress, but it is slow.  I don’t get as irritated in traffic.  I am a bit better at putting up with Carol’s Hallmark Channel movies (not really), and I am a complete failure at accepting the beetles.

I have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  There is an ongoing, futile attempt to control one’s environment, so strong it becomes ritualized.  For me, the coffee maker has to be in it’s exact place WITHOUT ANYTHING IN FRONT OF IT.  When a cup is sitting there, my neck and shoulder muscles tense, and I utter a quiet oath.  So what’s the big deal anyway?  Nada.  That’s dukkha.  My day will go just fine if the cup stays there.  Surprisingly, it will probably get moved, and there was no need to get all uptight.

Breathe in, breathe out, watch the reaction, watch it pass away.  The world is as it is.

Insects

Japanese Beetle

Insects are part of life.  I mostly ignore them unless they are deer flies or horseflies.  I get swollen welts the size of a cupcake when they sneak up and get me.  Denver is pretty dry, so mosquitos aren’t much of a problem.  Bees and wasps won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.  Flies in the house are a nuisance but they are easy to control.   

Insects in the garden can be a problem, but they can be controlled as well.  There is one huge exception, however.  Japanese beetles are evil, vile, nasty creatures masterminded by Darth Vader, the Empire, and the Borg.  They eat, kill, and destroy.   

Four years ago Denver had no Japanese beetles.  Then, someone in one of the upscale neighborhoods brought in some plantings with beetle larvae in the soil.  They are rapidly spreading northward.  Two years we had a few, last year they were a plague.   

Damage

What do they do?  The beetles themselves eat leaves.  They love rose blossoms, but leave those leaves alone.  They like linden tree leaves, grape leaves, raspberry leaves, and peach tree leaves.  A rosebud opens in the morning and by noon the flower is gone.  They work on grape leaves to the extent that any new growth stops.  That is no good when you are trying to grow a grape arbor.  Lots of linden leaves get honeycombed, but the tree seems to be able to cope.  Our peach tree and the raspberries get attacked, but so far, not a lot of damage.   

In Palisade, over on the Western Slope, peaches and vineyards are the mainstay of the economy.  Unchecked, the beetles would have wiped them out, so they took the nuclear option.  They sprayed.  Spraying stopped the beetles, but it killed the beneficial insects as well.   

Japanese Beetle Grubs in a Lawn

The other part of the Japanese beetle life cycle is when the beetles fly down and lay their eggs in the lawn.  The eggs hatch, and the grubs start eating the grass roots.   Lots of eggs, lots of grubs.  They can be so dense as to form a living mat of grubs.  The lawn develops spreading dead spots.  Uncontrolled, no lawn. 

What to do?  In the morning go out and flick the beetles into soapy water.  Nematodes and milky  spore help with the grubs.  There is a grub poison called GrubEx, but it isn’t selective in what it poisons.   

Trap

A popular control is traps.  The kind where the beetles fly into the jug, attracted by some bait.  They drown, and give off a scent that attracts more beetles.  Soon, it is a beetle feeding frenzy with beetles coming from the entire neighborhood.  They look around for another snack and eat all your plants.  You can’t have the trap near your vulnerable plants, not easy on a small urban lot.  I think I will do it anyway, just to watch the evil creatures die. 

I don’t think we will have a grape arbor.  The linden, peach tree, and the raspberries will cope.  We will cut off all the rose buds in June and July.  We may have to eliminate what lawn we have left after years of reducing its size.  

My task is to give up on my beetle obsession.

 Japanese Beetle

I am an Evangelical

Augustine

Well, not really.  But I was one.  I was raised a Methodist, and had a profound conversion experience into a Pentecostal denomination.

Yes, they were evangelical.  Evangelicals tend to take the Bible literally and have traditional beliefs about sexuality, marriage, abortion, and politics.  I hold none of those views.  I’m a liberal of the kind vilified on Fox News.  I retain some Christian beliefs, but am a practicing Buddhist.

I have an extensive library on Christianity.  Most of the books are about the relatively new thinking about Jesus and the Bible, most of them anathema to an evangelical.  I do accept the historical reality of Jesus, but that is about as far as it goes.  I tend to view it all from an historical perspective.

Regarding God, nobody knows for sure.  Most every culture deals with God in some fashion, but my view is he was extrapolated from the spirit world, entities who exist, but in my view are no more deities than we are.  Like us they would like to be gods, but only Donald Trump has made it.

I am from a milieu steeped in the old time religion.  It is ironic that the concept of original sin came from Augustine, a Catholic Scholastic.  His idea about the event in the garden leading to human depravity rather than free will leads directly to the idea Jesus assumed our sinful nature to release us from God’s curse.  John said God loved us and freed us from sin on the cross, but Augustine said God let Jesus atone for our depravity.

John Calvin

American evangelical Protestantism adopted Augustine.  Conservatives: we’re bad.   Liberals: we’re good, but need help because the event in the Garden gave us free will.  We can choose, a coyote can’t.  But, we sometimes make bad choices.

For several reasons, deep down I believe I’m bad.  I am engaged in overcoming that belief, with limited and intermittent success.  Sometimes I feel good about myself, sometimes I don’t.

I really don’t like Augustine, Calvin, and their wrathful God.  My father and grandfather had that Scots Presbyterian Calvinist outlook even though they were not religious.  I caught it from them.  The underlying attitude was nobody could ever measure up, including me and them.  There, ladies, and gentlemen, is a prescription for an unhappy life.  My mother was raised Congregationalist, another Calvinist denomination (no longer, however).

Grandfather, Father, and Mother were pretty nice people, which revealed their true natures, but under it all they thought they were lost souls.  As our current self-appointed deity would say, “Sad.”.   I’m afraid some part of me will always believe I am really a bad dude, which I caught from them.

Our culture remains contaminated with the evangelical attitude.  I sit here in the coffee shop next to Denver University, started in 1864 as a Methodist school.  The Methodists have never been quite as infected by Calvinism, coming from Anglican roots, but that need for redemption is still there.  The idea behind DU was to bring the gospel to the wilderness.  That was fine, but there was an underlying belief those naked heathen Indians were beyond redemption.  John Evans, the Methodist territorial governor in 1864 and a co-founder of DU, and John Chivington, a Methodist minister and Colonel of the Third Volunteer Cavalry Regiment decided those murdering heathens had to go.  Thus, the Sand Creek Massacre.

The streets at DU are Methodist, starting with Wesley, the Anglican who founded Methodism.  Looking west from Evans Avenue one sees Mt. Evans, both named after an Indian killer.  I live between Evans and Asbury Avenues.  Asbury is named for the first Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop in the United States.  I don’t seem to be able to get away from it.  The current DU students, however, don’t seem to be as infected with that stuff as I am.  The architects designing buildings at DU don’t seem to have gotten the message.  Even the big athletic field House has a bell tower. The old part of the campus has several spires and bell towers.

The University of Denver has, to its credit, recognized the tragedy of Sand Creek and the role of the Methodist founder of DU in the act of genocide.  DU is no longer evangelical, but has the history.  I am no longer evangelical, but I carry the history.

Change

Where We Started

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson points out, we are made from stardust.  It takes a supernova to generate the energy to create the heavier elements.  That stuff diffuses, then gravity slowly congeals into new bodies.  Now this takes time, many millions up to billions of years.  Even geologic time is somewhat inconsequential compared to galactic time.

That’s a reason why we are so deluded with respect to time.  For children, the weeks leading up to Christmas can seem like forever.  It’s no time at all.  However, sometimes when I sit in meditation, time seems to stand still and I get jumpy.  In truth, our lifetimes are meaningless when viewed from even the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way.

The message in this?  Chill, already.  The therapist I saw for my ADD had me put a sticker saying NBD on the dash of my pickup.  No Big Deal.  Universes come and go in the blink of Kali’s eye, and we are obsessed with He Who Must Not Be Named’s tweets.

What is important is what we do with this tiny minute we are here.  I am attempting to connect with that eternal universe I tend to ignore most of the time.  Going back to the roots.  Well, the roots are made from stardust.

My brain gets oxygen and food these days, so it goes into action, what it evolved to do.  The action is thinking.  Thoughts arise, mull around, and pass to something else.  We are physically safe most of the time, so it isn’t really necessary to be on alert all the time.  The saber-toothed tigers are gone.

So, my task is to stop thinking so much, and just be space and stardust.  It’s where we came from and where we are going, so why not just be with that?  When I am able to let the clutter go,  I am more in harmony with the changing universe, not my nearly ceaseless churning of the noise I absorbed yesterday.  What arises, fleetingly, is equanimity and serenity.

In the long run we are all dead, so what’s the big deal?  Maybe we need catacombs, ossuaries we visit regularly to remind ourselves of the impermanence of it all.  I would like ho hold Nietzsche’s skull in my hands.  So much for the Ubermensch.

Can’t we all just get along?  If I remember something, I wand to remember yesterday’s sunset and look forward to the breeze in my face as I walk out of the coffee shop.  Oops, there I am thinking about the future, not enjoying the nice people in the coffee shop.

 

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Mindfulness

Meditation

The ostensible purpose of mindfulness meditation is to stay in the moment.  One does this by watching the breath.  Just watching the breath.  Not thinking about breathing, not planning the week, not obsessing about ice cream.  By watching the breath only, one is in the moment.  Not the past, not the future, just now.

What the Buddhists call the self is that portion of our brain which wants to stay busy.   So, we think.  Thinking about most anything.  Some people have feelings, but I mostly think about feelings.  We are to note the thought of feeling, and return to the breath.  The goal is like cleaning the garage, getting rid of junk and having the other stuff organized so we don’t have to think about it.

Carol and I start our mornings with fifteen minutes of meditation.   We both agree about considering the meditation a success if we are able to watch more than two breaths.  I beat myself up about this.  What the hell am I doing this for if I can’t stay with my breath more than two times.  I must be some sort of failure.  When I complain about this to accomplished meditators, I hear “That is just where you are.”  That is no help, thank you very much.

Can’t they wave their wands and create an enlightenment spell?  Where is Hermione when I need her?  In fact, I am making some progress.  Some mornings I can stay with two or three breaths several times.  During longer meditations I sometimes can sustain for several minutes.  If I can’t stay with the breath, I pray.  I pray for others, I pray for myself, or I just pray with gratitude.

I also use mantras.  I justify them by believing my ADD doesn’t allow me to meditate like normies.  After all, people have used mantras for thousands of years.  I also blame my addictions, as if people haven’t overcome addictions with meditation for thousands of years.

Well, despite my resistance and whining, I am actually getting somewhere with this mindfulness business.  I have tried lots of stuff, trying to get myself somewhat lined out in life, and mindfulness meditation is what works for me.

Now, this mindfulness is not a standalone thing.  It is Buddhist.  That means The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  They explain why we are always thinking, mostly for no good reason, and provide guidelines for going through life without doing harm.  I dodge them by telling myself I can’t find a clear, brief explanation, as if Mr. Google doesn’t exist.  Well, I do a fairly good job of following them.  Most of the time.

At age 74 I feel I am finally on the way.  What more is there?

Sherlock

Sherlock and Watson

Two years ago I wrote about The Buckner Banner.  I rode the USNS Simone Bolivar Buckner to Germany and home two years later.  For some reason known only to the military gods, I was chosen to edit the ship’s newspaper, The Buckner Banner, although I was a lowly private.  It was great fun, and our nine issues were a big hit because we serialized a Sherlock Holmes novel.

There were civilians aboard, military dependents, and lots of troops in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for nine days with little to do.  The Banner was printed on a worn-out mimeograph machine, and the result was lots of gaps and unreadable copy in the paper.  Passengers got involved in the story and had great fun trading issues back and forth to be able to read each installment.

I got lots of compliments, and had the run of the ship as newspaper editor.   Strangely I have never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s works until now.  Sherlock is one of the best-known fictional characters in English.  He is probably better known today than in the Victorian era because of movies and television.  Basil Rathbone starred in seventeen Sherlock movies.  Robert Downey Jr. starred in a movie, and there are two current TV shows, Elementary, set in New York and starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (Dr. Watson a woman!); enjoying a five year run, and Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, also with a long run with just a few episodes each year.  At least 99 actors have played Sherlock.

We are steeped in Sherlock Holmes.  Barnes and Noble has a two volume edition of Doyle’s Sherlock stories, and I am well into Volume One.  The story I just finished is set in London and Brigham Young’s Utah.  The Mormons had a lot of bad press in Doyle’s era, what with polygamy and Brigham’s Theocracy.  The story reflects that bias, featuring three murders.

Doyle gives the Saints a bad rap, but a lot of their infamous deeds were a response to the persecution the saints endured in Missouri and Illinois, which led to their trek west.  2017 is not the only time people in America have faced religious discrimination; hate directed against Jews, Catholics, and Mormons for starters.

This was part of Doyle’s appeal.  He made the events of the Victorian era come alive for his readers then. They come alive for us now, here in a land of Anglophiles.  I am going to have a lot of fun with Sherlock, Watson, and company.

Weather

Weather Map

One of my Insight Meditation teachers likes to say everything is what it is.  Well, the weather comes and it goes.  If you are curious about the weather, look outside.  We seem to be preoccupied about the weather.  One of the big small talk topics is weather.  Every local TV newscasts has two segments on the weather.  The national news now has a weather story every evening. 

We always have weather.  It is always changing.  Regardless of what they say, we will get what we are going to have.  The meteorologists can give us an educated guess, but so what?  Look outside.  That is what we have.  Life goes on. 

We are at the mercy of the weather.  It’s hot, cold, wet, snowy, or beautiful.  The changes bring beauty.  We should be preoccupied with the beauty.  My teachers talk about impermanence.  That’s weather, that’s life.  We are born, live, and die.  The storm comes, stays a while, and is gone.   

Weather is not tomorrow, it is now.  Feel the cold, your stiff fingers.  See the sunrise, breathe the coffee smell, listen to the coffee shop chatter.  That is the weather.  Life is now.  Not tomorrow, not yesterday.  Yes, we have to act.  Work, laundry, get the brakes fixed, stop that faucet from dripping.   

The lesson is to feel the weather while stopping the drip.  Enjoy the light when the driver in front of you is texting after the light changes.  You will get there.  He will get there.  The clouds will be gray.  The sun will shine.  It is.  You are.  That’s all.

Winter Blues

Winter

As I sit here in the coffee shop it is a gray January day with a light rain falling, promising to turn to snow.  This is an accurate metaphor for my mood of late.  I’m prone to depression, get treatment for it, but this is probably Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  I haven’t been able to do much writing, and what I have written I haven’t posted.  This is unusual. My goal is to put something up every week and I haven’t come close.   

I used to have two of those lights which are supposed to help, but I gave one away and the other is over the bathtub I haven’t been able to use lately.  Why no baths?  Leaks.  The upstairs bathroom sink cold water faucet started leaking as well. 

For me, things happening around me are often related to the state of my psyche.  Water is also a symbol of the unconscious mind, and leaks are about something important trying to come to consciousness.  I am engaged in a struggle to keep things buried.  Thus, leaks I am slow in fixing, and gloom leading to inaction.  It’s easy to guess how my meditation practice is going.  

My meditations are supposed to have the goal of being totally in the moment-no thinking about the pas, the future, or Donald Trump.  I can stay with just observing my breath for maybe five seconds.  I usually am able to stay with my breath or a prayer for several minutes before drifting off to be with Dorothy and Toto.  I come back to the breath, stay there a while and drift off again.  Currently, I obsess.   

I think the real issue for me is aging.  I am 74 years old. Lifting a fifty pound sack of ice melt salt is hard.  I used to throw fifty pound sacks around.  I cannot go above the second step on the ladder for fear of falling off.  I sometimes cheat and go to the third step, no higher.  My balance is not very good.  I have stayed at the same weight for some time but the muscles are shrinking and the belly is growing.   

I forget stuff.  I have always been somewhat forgetful, an ADD-ADHD symptom, but it’s worse lately.  I am going to have to go back to writing reminders down, a habit I have slipped away from.  I also head downstairs to do something, do two or three other things and head upstairs with the task not done. At least I get some exercise going up and down the stairs all day.

I know this too will pass, but I am tired of waiting

 

 

Leadville

Leadville

Leadville

As part of our week in Breckenridge, we did a day trip to Leadville over Fremont Pass.  This country figures in my life.  My father grew up in Leadville, and I worked at the Climax Molybdenum mine one summer when in college.  Breckenridge is low country, around 9600 feet.  Leadville is over 10,000 feet in elevation, the highest incorporated city in the U.S. Climax is at the summit of Fremont Pass, 11,360 feet in elevation.  Some years, it doesn’t snow in July.   

Climax, Elevation 11,300 Feet

Climax, Elevation 11,300 Feet

Climax is at the foot of Bartlett Mountain, once one of the largest bodies of Molybdenum in the world.  Moly is used in alloying steel and as a lubricant.  Moly alloyed in steel makes it tougher, useful in high stress applications.  It’s first big use was in gun barrels during WWI.  Much of Bartlett Mountain is gone, hollowed out, crushed, had the metals removed, and the tailings dumped into a once beautiful glaciated valley.  Common with most mining operations, Climax has gone through several boom-bust cycles, and is currently just limping along.  Leadville is limping as well, still dependent on mining. 

I worked at the Storke level, 300 feet down the mountain from the original portal and mill.  I lived in a company hotel there. There was once a company town, but it went away as the milling operation took the land.  The store and the beer joint were still there in the mid-1960’s.    

I worked as a miner.  Drill, shoot, and muck.  That’s mining.  The drill was a jack leg, a pneumatic rock drill with a leg attached to be extended as the drill hole got deeper.  It was powered by compressed air, and had a water feed to keep dust down.  Drill holes in the face, load them with explosive, shoot, then remove the broken rock (muck).  I plan to go into the whole operation some time.  I did it for the money, and I can now say I was a miner. 

Leadville is down the pass.  What a place.  First gold, then a lot of silver, then bust as the silver market collapsed.  Mining has always gone on, from small independent operations to massive developments supporting a fairly large town.  My grandfather lived there for about twenty years as a railroader, a good Union job.  Born in 1903, my dad grew up there until 1918 when the railroad went broke and the family moved to Grand Junction.  Growing up, I heard lots of Leadville stories.  I will tell some more sometime.  If you go down the hill from the hotel on Harrison Avenue, the house at the bottom on the right is where my father grew up. 

Mining Hall of Fame

Mining Hall of Fame

When we visited, we drove around and I bored everyone with Leadville stories.  We ate at the Golden Burro, where I ate in the 1960’s, and went to the mining museum.  If you have any interest in mining, that’s the place.  Mostly, mining is taking metals and fuel from the earth and leaving a mess.  Leadville has lots of messes.  The worst ongoing mess is the water.  As it comes out of the mines it is highly acidic and loaded with toxic metals in solution.  It will have to be treated forever, at least in human terms.  Mining built Colorado, and we will always deal with the legacy.  Oh, what a mess we made.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Kermit

Kermit

“It’s not easy being green”.  I like to use that line with people who dye their hair green.  They don’t seem to mind, as they are extroverted enough to do such a thing and be seen in public.  I particularly like the phrase because I have a green pickup and my totem animal is the frog.  I even have a couple of stuffed frogs people have given me.  I have been kissed, but, alas, never turned into a prince.  I do tend to hop and croak, but draw the line at eating flies. 

I have found that at my age, I can initiate conversations with strangers I wouldn’t have dared to do when I was younger.  People just figure I am a silly old man.  Right on.  I am bald and usually wear a hat.  I walk up to African-American people, men and women, with dreadlocks and tell them I have wanted

Whoopi With Dreadlocks

Whoopi With Dreadlocks

dreadlocks for years.  Then I take my hat off.  I always get a laugh and a couple of comments.  It’s my way of connecting with black people.  It is also a way of showing respect for how they look in a humorous way.  I have had a lot of fun with it.  I also have a bit of a Rastafarian streak. 

Another joke I use with strangers is when I see someone with a college shirt on.  With the Denver University people I ask them why Colorado College grads keep a copy of their diploma on the dash of their car.  It’s so they can park in the handicapped slot.  Here in Colorado, it’s often CU and Nebraska.  By the way, that N on their helmets stands for nowledge.  

I used the joke with Duke-North Carolina, Auburn-Alabama, Notre Dame-Penn State, Denver Metro-CU Denver, USC-UCLA, and sadly after Saturday’s game, Washington-Oregon.  The combinations are endless.  I have had the most fun with Texas Tech-Texas A&M.  I told the joke to a couple, he with a Texas Tech T-shirt.  She screamed, “I’m an Aggie!”.  He couldn’t stop laughing.  I used Purdue with a guy wearing an Indiana shirt.  “My dad’s a Purdue grad and an engineer”.  He promised to use it on his dad. 

Then there are the Gingers.  I tell them they should rule the world.  Gingers are a downtrodden minority no one is really aware of.  The pure redheads are usually able to effectively protect themselves, given their temperament.  Of course many of them are Irish, which opens up a whole new area. 

Lincoln Tunnel

Lincoln Tunnel

I also have my New York joke, useful with anyone from a four-state region around the city.  “Do you know why the suicide rate is so high in Manhattan?”  “The light at the end of the tunnel is Jersey.”  Even Jersey natives laugh at that one.  Now, New Jersey truly is The Garden State, except for those ugly industrial flats across the river from Manhattan.  When in the Army, I was stationed at Fort Monmouth on the Jersey shore.  This child of the Colorado Plateau was overwhelmed by the lushness of that area.  I had never seen so much green. 

So, now you know how I make a fool of myself in public.  Try it, it’s much better than expressing panic about the election.

 

 

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