Sunday, December 18, 2011

simple things

This weekend has been about spending time with family and friends. We had a dear friend visit from Ohio, and got a chance to catch up a bit. I spent a lovely afternoon talking, eating and drinking with some of my favorite people. I spent a lot of time with my husband and son. It was really wonderful. Sometimes, it's not the big events, it's the simple things that make the biggest difference in your life.

Oh yeah, my son says I'm the best cook ever... because of this:

Chicken Curry

1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2 large carrots, sliced
1 large sweet onion, sliced vertically in thin slices
a handful of fresh string beans
3 boiled, peeled potatoes
1 cup of steamed cauliflower (optional)
1 tablespoon madras curry powder
2 tblspoons cornstarch
1.5 tablespoons better than bouillon chicken
1.5 cups cold water
1 tablespoon cooking oil

add oil to hot skillet. Add chicken. Cook on high a few minutes until chicken is cooked outside (doesn't need to be cooked all the way through). Put chicken aside. Add onions, carrots, string beans to the skillet. Saute 5-8 minutes, on high heat, stirring frequently.
slice potatoes and add to the pan, Cook another 2-3 minutes. Return chicken to the pan. Add the curry powder. Let cook another minute. Add the bouillon. Stir. Put cornstarch in a bowl, stir in the cold water, dissolving the cornstarch. Add to the pan, bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower if using. Put a cover on the pan, reduce heat to low. Cook 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

Serve with rice.

Friday, December 09, 2011


On Sunday, I take the refuge vow at the Shambhala Center.

the vow is simple:

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

What it means is that I commit to the Buddhist path for my lifetime. It's a big thing, but an easy one. I have already made the same commitment to myself, have been living that commitment for a little over a year. This is just a public declaration in front of the community I am joining. It is a little like a catholic confirmation service. There is no priest, but there is an acharya (a teacher). There are specific words said, and specific gestures made.

I was a Buddhist before the ceremony and I will be a Buddhist after.

Friday, October 21, 2011

community of another sort

Last night, I went on my third weekly visit to the Shambhala Meditation Center. On Thursday nights, they have what they call an "open sit". At 7pm, the large meditation room is open to all who want to come meditate. There are cushions set out in rows, and chairs in the back for those who need them. Their are candles, and incense or scented oil. A "moderator" acts as timekeeper. The person sits facing the room, sounds the bell that starts the time period, meditates, and sounds the bell again at the end of the session (about 45 minutes). During meditation the room is silent, except for the occasional cough, or the sound of someone shifting position. It is quiet enough to hear someone's stomach gurgle in the row ahead of you. It is amazingly peaceful and welcoming.

After the open sit, there is an open house. People drink tea, eat snacks that have been prepared, and socialize for 15-20 minutes. If you choose, you can attend a dharma talk after the tea. These talks are on meditation or buddhist dharma. They generally last an hour.

There is no charge for the evening, although donations are accepted. They just leave out a bowl for this.

I have really gotten a lot out of this. There is a difference to meditating in a room with others versus doing it at home. A different energy? I am not sure really. It may just be the length of time you meditate. At home, I generally do 15-20 minutes. This is 45 minutes. That is a long time to sit, at least for a relative beginner.

The dharma talks have been helpful, and enlightening. Not a religion, but a way of dealing with what is. No salvation, no higher power, no faith. I love the pragmatic, the practical approach that this center takes. It is not so much about the theory, the philosophy, as it is about the practice. "This is the way it is, now what do we do about it" I have not heard anything I have opposed, or disagreed with. I find myself nodding in agreement or recognition a lot. I am in the right place for me, I think.

It feels really good.

Monday, October 03, 2011

the journey continues

I have been to Detroit. To Philly. I'm headed to Charlotte in a few weeks. We're into the college trip/college application process in a big way. It's been a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be.

Our first trip was to Wayne State in Detroit. I really was not looking forward to visiting Detroit. It turned out to be a really fun trip. We stayed in a really plush hotel, nicer than our usual by quite a few notches (thanks Hotwire!). We had a view of the waterfront from our bed. Beautiful. We spent a lovely day wandering around the Belle Isle park. They had a stunning conservatory, and no one visits it. The guard at the desk thanked us multiple times for visiting. The sign in sheet showed we were the only ones. On an amazingly beautiful Sunday afternoon. The multiple thank yous would be a trend. Detroit seems to have so few visitors, and so few residents. Everywhere we went people were gracious, polite, and unbelievably grateful we were there. We visited the Detroit Institute of Art and it was much the same. Beautiful museum, very good collection and very few visitors. We went to a restaurant, Kascent... which we visited because a guy on the sidewalk talked us into going inside. We were one of two tables of people in a restaurant meant to hold hundreds. We had fresh corn muffins, straight from the oven. I had Fried chicken. Greens. Mac and cheese. My husband ate an enormous freshly fried catfish sub, and our son had ribs, with all the trimmings. Our bill was $24. Amazing.

The school was much much better than we expected. The campus was nice, the size (20,000 plus students) seemed manageable. It was diverse, and it seemed that everyone mixed easily. Our son felt instantly at home.

The 2nd trip was just me and the boy. We had a great time. We did a day trip to Philly, to tour Temple University. The school had much better facilities and resoures than Wayne State, but seemed a little clique-y. While it was diverse, folks seemed to mix only with folks like themselves. Still, it was a beautiful place and had a lot of things to recommend it. We followed it up with getting lost, getting lunch, getting lost again. Lunch was dim sum, at a highly recommended restaurant. Food was terrific but the experience not so much. None of the staff spoke English, or understood it. Menus in chinese only. We never got drinks because we couldn't get the wait staff to understand what we wanted. We weren't even sure what we ate from the cart, although it was delicious. I'm not sure I would go back, even with the great food. It was so frustrating not being able to communicate.

In a week we go to Charlotte. I am really excited. We are going to visit UNC-Charlotte, but I am thrilled to have an excuse to visit the city. And looking forward to spending some more family time together. I am very aware now, that the family time we have is growing short. Every time we tour a campus, see a dorm room, I get a very concrete reminder that our boy is moving on, and away. Still, I am going to enjoy the time we have. And maybe I'll get BBQ too.

Monday, September 12, 2011

churning, but not really moving

Sometimes I am really really busy. This is one of those times. At the same time, I feel like not much is happening. I am working a lot, seven days a week most of the time. I have a database re-development, a server migration, a web server upgrade, and a change to our credit card processing, all happening at the same time. It's a lot of effort, and all to crucial systems. It really has to go well, right out of the gate. I don't feel as anxious about it as I normally would, and I am not feeling the pressure the same way. It's not that I don't care -- I really do want it to all go well. It's just that I don't care with the same weight and urgency that I used to have. I guess I finally understand that it's an important task, but it's not earth-shattering. It's not life and death. I have more perspective than I've had before.

We are going to start looking at colleges next week. This is a big year for our son, his senior year of high school. He is working at getting his license, taking a really demanding course load, and is trying to squeeze in some fun at the same time. I want to enjoy the year, and try to savor the "mom" time as it slowly slips away. It's also a year with big tasks for me -- making sure I don't miss deadlines, making sure we see the schools we need to see, talk to the people we need to talk to, and meet our financial goals for the coming year. I haven't felt this torn between my two hats since our child was a toddler. I want to spend all my time on my mom hat, but need to spend as much time as possible on my work hat.

The funny thing is that I know that in six months all the work on both fronts will be largely done. All the "huge" stuff will have resolved, one way or another. In the meantime, I just need to relax and let it flow.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

rumination on meditation

I have been meditating daily for more than 6 months now. I don't meditate for long, sometimes only 5 minutes, usually 10-15, first thing in the morning. I used to meditate, sitting in a comfy chair. Recently, I've moved to a cushion on the floor.

Originally, I meditated because it was a requirement for a study I was in. Now I meditate because I seem to need it. When I don't do it, I feel like something is missing. It calms me. It centers me. It heals me. Occasionally, it challenges me.

Sometimes, I sit and nothing happens. On those days, I get 10 minutes of peace and quiet, and nothing more. Sometimes I get an up close view of what I am thinking and feeling, and that's not always a fun time. Sometimes I get insights. Sometimes I just feel happy, or connected, or I feel awash with love for everything. Sometimes, I feel agitated, unable to settle.

Certain patterns have emerged. If I am troubled about a person, even if I am not consciously aware that I am, I will see their face until I acknowledge that there is something I need to resolve, and then it will go away and I can go back to my meditation. I get phrases that crop up -- these are like notes from my unconscious, I think. Once it was a solid week of "body and mind are one". Clearly this was something important I needed to understand. The last day or so have been nested russian dolls, "I am. We are. It is." I am still puzzling out all that I am supposed to understand about that. "It's not about you" was one that was a part of my sessions, but has since cropped up from time to time as I meditate.

Sometimes, I am just sitting there with I see the desire for attention, or the need for importance. I see pettiness, insecurity, selfishness. I can be stunned by my real feelings, real motivations. I can acknowledge the fear, or anger, or sadness. It can be painful and eye-opening to really see your uncensored self, but it is also illuminating. I had no idea how much I filtered, or hid from myself.

Sometimes there are no words, just a light, and a stillness that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere. Just the now, the infinite moment. In that there is the sound of the insects buzzing, the birds singing, the rustle of leaves, the cool on my skin, the unyielding floor beneath me. I can feel my heart beat, hear and feel my breathing.

It seems to me that an enormous amount can happen, with just 10 minutes of stillness a day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

an interesting ending, a new beginning

Today was my last day in the study. I went for an exit interview, a slew of paper and computer tests, a blood draw, a final meeting with my study guide assistant. I went in at 10am. First up, a 1 inch stack of paperwork. I filled out quality of life surveys, gratitude surveys, attitude surveys, a death perception survey. I filled out general psych surveys. I answered questions about my goals. I answered questions about my general emotional state. I clicked a mouse for long lines displayed on a screen, and tried to NOT click when the displayed line was short. I clicked buttons to cooperate or not, earning fake money depending on which option the computer chose. I filled out more paperwork.

Then I went down to the lab for a blood draw. Nurse 1 kept thumping my veins and shaking his head. He tied the rubber tubing around one arm, thumped, shook his head. Then he moved the rubber tubing to the 2nd arm, thumped my veins, shook his head. He moved the rubber tubing back to the first arm and stuck the needle in. Missed the vein. He tried again. Missed again. Then he called in another nurse. She repeated the routine. She stuck me once, missed the vein. Stuck me again, said she knew she got it that time, but no blood. She called another nurse. She thumped by veins, found one she liked, and got the sample. I recited my mantra in my head, took deep breaths and tried to keep the nurses calm during the whole procedure.

Bandaids on both arms, and feeling like a pincushion, I went back upstairs. I met with one of the psychologists to discuss my overall experience, what I felt I got out of the psilocybin, the meditation, the mantra, the groups.

THen I met with another psychologist, to talk some more about the study. We talked for a few minutes and then the building began to shake. We both thought it was the construction crew outside, colliding with the building. The shaking got worse. A painting flew off the wall, and the file cabinet drawers started rattling. We ran out into the hall, I grabbed my backpack and we headed down the stairs with everyone working on the floor. When we got downstairs, the guard said it was the entire medical center, not just the building. Not a construction accident, a 5.9 earthquake. We stood out in the parking lot, and did more of my exit interview. I took a few minutes to call home, and make sure everyone was fine.

After about 20 minutes, we got the all clear and went back in. I finished up my interview, and met with my study assistant. We talked about different types of meditation, and she had some suggestions for things I might want to try. We hugged, and she walked me back downstairs.

The study was officially over, with a most interesting ending, I think. I certainly will never forget it.

Today was also a new beginning. Now I meditate because I meditate. I use my mantra, because that's what I do. I don't do it for the study, and I won't have guidance, or input, or requirements. It will be what I do because I want to, or need to do it. And it will be something I do on my own. I look forward to where it takes me.

Monday, August 08, 2011

paper losses don't mean much

I've lost about fifteen thousand dollars this week, on paper. S&P cut the US credit rating, and the resulting uncertainty has sent the stock market into a tailspin. I am not saying this because I want sympathy, or because I am particularly concerned. It's a paper loss, affecting money I have never seen. This is retirement money for us, and we are far from retirement age. So really, while I could sit and gnash my teeth, I have only "lost" what I never really had.

On the other side of the world, in Somalia, 29,000 children have died from starvation. 350,000 more are in danger of suffering the same fate. For their families, this loss is real, and immediate, and devastating.

It seems to me that my little loss just doesn't mean much.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

not so far apart

from the rhetoric flying around washington, you would think that their is a chasm between those on the right and those on the left. I sit firmly on the left. So I wondered how far apart are we, really?

Here's what I believe --

I believe in strong families. I believe marriage depends on two consenting adults, in a committed, monogamous relationship. I think the raising of children is an important endeavor, vital to the success of our society.

I believe in keeping your word. Pay your debts. Be honest. Live an ethical life.

I believe in hard work. I think there is honor in any job well done. I expect to be loyal to my employer, and expect my employer to be loyal to me. I expect a living wage.

I believe in the American Dream. If I work hard, educate myself, and follow the rules, I should prosper.

I believe all citizens are equal before the law, and in the eyes of their fellow citizens.

I want safety, security, health, a solid future for my child.

The big differences are in the details, I guess -- how these beliefs get translated into policy.

I am willing to pay taxes, to live in a world where what I believe is true for ALL Americans, not just some. I am unwilling to prosper on the backs of my fellow citizens. I don't believe what's good for corporations is necessarily good for the people. I don't believe the wealthy need to be protected from paying their fair share. I want equality for all citizens, not just straight, Christian, born in America citizens.

I guess that's the gap.

Monday, July 25, 2011

some musings on getting older

I turned 49 this weekend. I know I'm not supposed to tell my age, but I just can't see why it's a big deal. It's how old I am. I like being 49. I liked being 48. I am guessing I will like 50 too. Not liking my age would be like not liking my big toe. It's just part of who I am.

The other day, we were having a conversation with our waiter. Our son had turned 17, and our waiter wanted desperately to be 17 again. I thought about it. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to being a teenager. All that anxiety, and uncertainty. Trying to be cool. Trying to fit in. So much fear about the future. No thanks.

While I had a blast in my twenties, I wouldn't go back to that either. Such a manic time. Really high highs, and really low lows. Still not sure who I was, or what I wanted, and scared I wouldn't get it, even though I didn't know what "it" was.

I infinitely prefer the more "mature" me. I know who I am. I know what I want, and what I don't. I have built a life that makes me happy. I am as successful as I am ever going to get, and I am content. I don't need anything, or really want for anything either. My life is full of good friends, much love, and good times.

There are prices to aging. My knees hurt. My hair is turning white. I struggle with my weight. I don't see as well as I did. I can't stay up all night, at least not if I have to get up the next day. I sometimes forget things I want to remember. Perimenopause has been no fun at all. I have to get up at night to pee.

Still and all, I'll take it. All of it is as it should be. A sign that I've been here a while, and have a few miles (and the memories to go with them) on me. At 49, I can say it's all good.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

another step on the road

Our son turned 17 yesterday. It's another step on the road to...away. He is job hunting, working on getting his license, looking at colleges. It's all as it should be. On the one hand, I am proud. He's everything I wanted in a child, and he's turned into a good man. On the other hand, I'm a mom. What am I when he leaves home? Intellectually, I know that I'm still me. I know that I will always be his mother. But the day to day part I play in his life will largely be a thing of the past, and relatively soon. And what I know in my mind has yet to reach my heart.

I hope I can manage to approach this year with grace, and with a greatful heart.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

wanting what I haven't got

I don't think money is the root of all evil; I think wanting is. It seems to me that when I am unhappy, when I feel discontented, it is almost always because I want something I haven't got. I chafe at my older model car, because I see all the shiny new ones. There is nothing wrong with my car. Nothing. I just suddenly value it less, judge it more harshly, because I want a new one. I see someone's vacation pictures, and suddenly feel stifled by my job. I want a book or a CD or a new movie. I start resenting the money I have to spend on the dog.

Wanting what you haven't got, you become a judge, weighing what you have against what others have. You become resentful, because you are so deserving, and others, who deserve less, have more. You become selfish, because when you focus on your own wants, you have no room for others.

This kind of want, that doesn't stem from true need, is destructive, seductive, powerful, but ultimately, unfillable.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

its not about me

one of the things that I came away from my sessions with is the idea that "its not about me". This means more than it seems to mean on the surface. It is about giving into the idea that we are all one thing. Not distinct separate entities, but part of the ALL. It is about surrendering the individual will, the individual desires and just allowing the universe to be what it is, without attempting to shape or control or fight what is.

Apparently the universe can drive along just fine, without me at the wheel. This is humbling. This is also freeing. It is also hard to put into practice. The temptation to control things, to manage, to HELP, to shape, is profoundly enticing. I'm here, I matter, I can bend things to my desire and will. LIke a two year old, ME DO.

Except. I can let things be. I can not act. Let what's going to happen just happen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

because of Scott

because of Scott, I had a lot to think about today. I am guessing, because he was 47 years old, that he thought he had tons of time -- time to say I love you, or thanks, or you mean a lot to me. Time to say I'm sorry, I screwed up, I need you, I appreciate it. That's what I think, and I'm only a couple of years older. I am guessing he didn't spend a lot of time thinking about how he wanted to live his last days. I think that's something that occurs to you when you are much older.

because of Scott, I thought about the things he maybe didn't have time for, and said the things that maybe he never got around to saying.

Rest in peace, Scott.

Friday, June 24, 2011

happy tired

I am exhausted. I slept a little less than three hours, so that I could take our son and a friend to pick up their bus to the airport at 2am. But I am a happy tired. My son is in Costa Rica for a week, on a high school Spanish trip. I love being able to give him this kind of experience. The night before, I stayed up until 12:30, waiting for him to get home from his first rock concert. He saw U2 at a large stadium near our home, with some of his best buds. He was almost glowing as he told me about the show.

I love all of this, even when it knocks me out. Because it's what I always hoped for. Our kid is happy, healthy, well-adjusted. He has good friends. He has opinions, interests, talents, a life. I would give up sleep for weeks to see the smile on his face, the joy and excitement that come with new experiences. SWEET!

Monday, June 13, 2011

what is compassionate?

I am struggling the last week or two with what is compassionate? How do you know when you are truly acting from compassion? and in a situation where there is pain all around, how do you know which action is more compassionate?

Does compassion require action at all? Can I be loving, be compassionate, and still let events unfold without my doing anything at all?

To give a non-human example -- our dog is in pain. A lot of pain, a lot of the time. His test results show hip dysplasia, spinal disk degeneration, a spinal cyst, stenosis. He already has mitral valve degeneration, and a heart defect. Yet he is happy much of the time, and seems to enjoy his life. Do we keep taking him to the vet? have his hip replaced, or the cyst removed? At what point are we serving ourselves and not the dog? what is the compassionate thing to do? Are we taking him to the vet for him, or for us? If its for him, will we know when it switches to being about us?

when do you act? when do you not act? does motive matter?

Friday, June 03, 2011

extending the metaphor

So, I talked the other day about parenting yourself. Once I had accepted that idea, and begun to put it into practice, I realized that I had to extend the metaphor. If we are all truly interconnected, and I have to parent myself, it follows that I have to parent everything.

I have to extend that same respect, tenderness, and nurturing that I offer myself as far as I can. I have to extend that difficult job of letting go, of encouraging growth, of being stern when needed, out beyond the boundary of self and into the world.

I have wondered before what compassion demands. How can we forgive, or love, someone who does terrible things? I think now, I have the answer. I can do it as a parent does it, when their child disappoints or does something hateful. Sometimes you have to attempt to correct the behavior; sometimes you have to step back and let the lesson unfold. Sometimes you can do nothing at all-just hope for the best.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

parenting yourself

An idea has emerged from my most recent meditation sessions -- that you should parent yourself. By that I mean that you should treat yourself as if you were your own child. Instead of the inner voice being critical -- too fat, a failure, bad mother, bad wife, shouldn't have said that, done that, etc - it should be maternal. "Next time you'll do better." Or "you're beautiful the way you are" or maybe you just need some rest, or soup, or an extra hug. Maybe you should coddle yourself a little. Be firm when you need it. Approach yourself with tenderness. With care. With love. Unconditionally.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

schools out

So for me, school is over. I graduated on Friday. I've finally completed something I started way back in 1992, when I took my first graduate school class.

Friday morning, I met my fellow graduates in the gym by Homewood field. We helped each other figure out the mystery of how to wear a hood with our cap and gowns. A half hour before graduation we were still discussing classes, papers, professors. We were done, but the idea hadn't caught up to us yet, and we were still very much students together.

We marched across the astroturf, and through the tunnel set up for us. We joked, pointed out each others families, noticed how serious and young the other graduates were, the engineers and scientists. We settled in to our rows, fanning each other, cooling each other with water bottles. We listened to the speakers, although they seemed to be speaking to the other graduates. We were exhorted to solve the problems of climate change, and our planet. We asked each other if we could manage that with an essay or poem... We watched for our pictures on the huge video screens, applauded when one of us came into view.

We waited our turn. The other graduates walked solemnly across the stage. serious hand shakes, a quick pose for a photograph. degree after degree.

At last, our turn. Master of Arts in Liberal Arts. We got our hand shake, but also hugs, and a few tears. Back to our seats and a chance to relax a bit. We congratulated each other, and told each other how proud and happy we were to graduate together. And we meant it.

I got a piece of paper on Friday, a degree that says the University recognizes my achievement. But what I got for the last 5 years was worth much more -- a real community that will always be a part of me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

status update

so -- it's been 5 months since I looked at my progress on various fronts. I have lost 16 pounds since January 1. I am really pleased with my progress. I think I was successful this time because I was not alone in my attempt. Friends from work, and from online, were also trying to lose weight and we encouraged each other.

I have walked 3-5 days a week since January. I walk a very brisk 1.5 miles during lunch, usually with a couple of friends from work. This has reduced my stress level. I also don't get so sleepy in the afternoon.

I finished graduate school. I turned in my portfolio, and while it wasn't stellar, I thought it came out pretty well. I definitely was pleased, looking back at my experience, and at the work I'd done.

Work has gone well. I feel like I am learning and improving there as well.

I'm continuing to meditate every morning, and journal every day.

I feel more relaxed, more centered, healthier. I feel content.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

finding the balance

I have been struggling with the practical applications of my recent experiences. Simply put, I know things, so how do I apply what I know? We are all connected. What does that mean in my day to day life? I believe everyone does the best they can. No one tries to be an asshole. No one means to live a bad life (or they do and are so damaged they couldn't do otherwise). I find myself excusing the guy who cuts me off in traffic because he was probably late to his kids school, or if he's late to work he'll lose his job. I still get mad, but it fritters away to nothing. How much edge do I lose? Can i retain all my "self"? is a kinder, gentler me possible? would I still be me?

I think I will be struggling to find a balance for a while.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

slowly, the wheels turn

slowly the wheels turn. I am still processing all that happened during my two psilocybin experiences, still mulling over what I now know, and what that means about me, and for me. from time to time, I will share my current thoughts, based on what I've processed so far.

I have always felt rather shallow, because I don't tend to be self-analyzing. I just live. If I make a mistake, I try to improve. If I see a problem, I try to fix it. But I don't spend time thinking about it. I don't scrutinize, analyze, or obsess. I have always been about the what, and the how, and not the why.

I no longer feel bad about it. In both experiences, I got a very clear picture that the IS, is what is significant. I think the desire for the WHY is about fear, or maybe control. Why are we here? is a question driven out of a fear that you aren't living the way you should, or that you are missing something vital. If you knew the why, you could do things differently, you could maybe game the system, or not waste time on the wrong things.

But really, if you knew, if you really truly knew the why, what would it change? you are already doing the best you can, and you are already living your life your way. If you let go of the fear, and the desire to control, the why seems to lose it's attraction.

I am not saying that "why" can't be important. When there is a specific problem to solve, it is essential. It drives science and exploration. I just think we apply the question to everything, because it works so well in some areas. It's the universal hammer, and everything begins to look like a nail.

Instead of "why me?", maybe "now what?" or "how do I move forward?" is the truly useful question. Instead of "why am I here", maybe "I am here -- how do I make the most of it?"

Monday, April 11, 2011

guinea pig, the next next chapter

Today was my second psilocybin session. What follows is my report for the study guides:

Report – session 2

This session was very different. The first was transcendence, exaltation, joy, humor. This was prosaic. This was more about me, not the universal. I got to see how my mind works. I mean that literally. I got to …see…how my mind works. I saw it take my recent experiences, and add them to my existing symbol set and filter it all into some sort of order. It was beautiful and illuminating. I had a lovely sequence of rediscovering my arms, my fingers, of how my fingers worked. I marveled and enjoyed the mechanics of it all. I rediscovered music. That doesn’t exactly describe it. It was like I never heard it before, and I played with it, puzzling it out. Oh, this is how music works. I understood it. I was in a tribe, in Africa. Mud, wood, drums. And I called to my friends, each by name, and they came, and became part of my tribe.We danced and it was good. I was in Egypt. I could read the hieroglyphics. Water was everything. It pulsed through my culture, controlled what you were or how you were honored.I had the secret of the water, and that was good. I was in Vallhalla, feeling that I would fight and die with the people at the table, and that it was good. I watched the Gods rage on Olympus, tapping my foot with impatience, waiting for them to finish their bluster and games. It seemed such a distraction, and beside the point. The real answer was the day to day, the big IS. The rest was just ….theater.

There was work today. Three times I had to give something up. The first time, I had to give up language. Words broke apart and became meaningless sounds. And I got the message. I would move no further until I gave up language. It was a struggle. Really really hard. But I did, and as soon as I let it go, everything made sense again. The second time, I had to give up control. Again I got the message. I would move no further until I gave up Control. It was really hard. But I did, and as soon as I let go, I could move. The third time was the hardest for me. This time, I had to give up self. I had to really struggle, but in the end, I did what was asked. And felt an incredible sense of unity, of peace.

Several times, I felt I was done. I crossed my arms and said, “nope, not gonna do it”. I mean that literally. I was flat on my back, with my arms crossed, my foot tapping and all the defiance of an eight year old. Nope, You aren’t the boss of me. I am tired, and I’m hungry and I am not doing this. And then I waited. But it wasn’t over. I was just not going to get my way. Each time this happened, I eventually gave in. There was no point in insisting, so I might as well enjoy the ride.

This was all hard work. But it felt good. I feel like I did something today. I connected with the universal past, I survived many trials, and I persevered. I earned my place in the family of man. I don’t know how else to word it, but that’s what it felt like to me.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

missing Dave

A dear friend died the other day.

We met back in college, when I was a freshman and he was a graduate student. He was a "friend of a friend", and I met him through our frequent D&D games. We were unlikely friends. He was on the far end of the nerdy spectrum. Bad clothes, awkward social skills, irritable, long winded. But he had a great sense of humor. He was one of the most knowledgeable people I had ever met, on a wide variety of topics. And he was unfailingly kind.

Over the years, he became part of our lives. I remember going to the beach, parties, an infamous trivial pursuit game, funerals, weddings. The wooden tractor he bought for Mike when he was little. Emails, books borrowed and lent, movies seen, meals shared.

We worried about Dave. His health was poor. He suffered from juvenile diabetes, and the complications that came with it. In the end, it killed him.

I'm really going to miss him.

RIP David L Bongard

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

guinea pig, the next chapter

I have been participating in a research study for 4 weeks now. I have been meditating every morning, journalling every day, and meeting with a counselor/guide weekly. The results have been very positive. I only meditate 10-15 minutes every morning, but have already had more than a 10 point drop in blood pressure. I feel calmer and more centered. My stress level has gone down a bit.

Yesterday I completed my first psilocybin session as part of the study. Overall it was a very positive experience, although I have the mother of all "hangovers"today. What follows is the report I was asked to write last night, to turn into the study's principle investigator this morning. Bear in mind that this was written after an extremely emotional and intense, drug experience.
3/22 session one - report:
The drug took affect fairly quickly, or so it seemed to me. I felt a sort of dislocation, a kind of sense of “unreality”. I felt really nauseous and physically uncomfortable initially, but this passed. My initial images were stained glass, church spires, gothic church ceilings. I kept moving higher, and this all disappeared in streaming sunlight. I experienced a sort of synesthesia(?) sounds became light, light became sound, music became a shape. Things bent and danced, with bright blue, bright red, flashing lights. I saw what I called a hindu merry go round, but it was dancing elephants, blue figures, dancing figures, with the jeweled diamond patterns from Indian art. It did not feel religious, but it did feel FUN. It was music and joy and fun, and it was a part of everything. I heard what I thought was a drum, somewhere in the background, a beat… a beat. It became clear it was a heart beat. The heart beat. I was witness at the birth of the world. A bright gold light sphere, the heart beat was the eternal Mother, and I caught the birthed world in the palm of my hands. It was wonderful and beautiful and essential. I was a tree, old, my roots in the soil, and it was me. I was my age, and loving the feeling of age, the sense I was in a flow of time and right in the place I should be. I felt such contentment and acceptance. I saw more shapes, lights, the music became emotion and emotion became a ribbon I could trace and follow and still feel. I became the music and then I became the emotion. It flooded me. I was filled with light and joy, weeping at the beauty and truth. The joy grew and expanded until I almost could not contain it and then it flooded everything. I was bathed in white light, I was white light. And there was the TRUTH. I knew it, it knew me. And I got the assurance that I could keep it for all time. This you can keep, for always. It was a promise and a commitment and an assurance. And I felt intense gratitude. And then I felt what I can only call a universal benediction. I felt GRACE. I felt that I had heard a universal amen. I was awash in a feeling of accomplishment and triumph. I basked in it; reveled in it, took my bow and triumphal march. And then I was surprised that there was more. Delight. Humor. I was shown my faults, my cynicism, my temper, my lust, my pride, and all of it was okay. It was me as much as the transcendence. I saw a duality of things, that I could be Buddha and a bitch, and this was part of the delight of the universe. All things are a part of the whole.

Later, I could feel that I was “back”. I felt my body again. We took a little break, talked, I sat up, and then back to the couch and the blindfold. At this point it was different. The music was just music, and much of it irritated me. I could feel my body, and was hungry, tired, cranky. I had conscious thoughts again. Memories, images from life, from film, snippets of things I’d read, all back again. .

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


as part of my new routine, I meditate every morning when I wake up. I have done this for 3 weeks now. It doesn't matter if I want to. It doesn't matter if I am so tired I can hardly stay awake. What matters is committing to a discipline. I have lots of routines in my life, but that is not the same thing. My routines are things I do without thought. Meditation is a conscious decision.

some mornings, it is the last thing I want to do. But I get up, and I do it. And no, I don't always magically feel better for having done it.

I am trusting that there is value in the discipline itself.

Monday, March 07, 2011

I need a vacation

It never fails. The 2-3 weeks before I go on vacation are the busiest weeks I've had in months. Work is insanely busy. My newest project is to learn how, deploy, and administer an Alfresco server all in 2-3 weeks. There's that number again.

I have to write and submit my MLA portfolio, before I leave for vacation, so I have time to do any requested revisions before the deadline.

I am meeting once a week with my guide for the research study, and am scheduled to have my first psylocybin experience the week we leave.

And we still have social events, regular errands, trip errands.

I can't wait to get away and have 10 days OFF.

Monday, February 28, 2011

misplaced guilt

So, last week I asked for a raise/promotion. I haven't heard back yet, but I feel guilty for asking. I know, at some level, that I shouldn't. I know I worked hard, have valuable skills, and have performed exceptionally well. I know that. But I also know how I feel. I may deserve what I asked for -- actually I am sure that I do.

But I also know I have co-workers that make much less than I already make. That the money for salaries is not infinite, and that paying me more means someone else may have to take less. That really I already make enough. Intellectually, I also know that this is not my problem.

But it still feels like my problem. Maybe this is why women don't ask for raises. Maybe we empathize to much with the other guy. I don't know. Studies say that women don't tend to ask for promotions or raises, where their male counterparts do. I have seen articles that attribute much of the pay gap between men and women to this reticence.

I think I'm experiencing misplaced guilt. The kicker is I might not even get what I asked for. Maybe the answer is no. Will I be relieved or angry if that's the answer?

Monday, February 21, 2011

wishing for spring

I can't help it -- I am wishing for spring. We had a lovely day on Friday, with the temperature getting up to 70 or so. I was able to go outside for a walk at lunch. I cannot believe how feeling the sun on my back improved my mood. Blue sky. Sun. Warmth. Buds on the trees. Robins in the yard. Magnificent.

Today it is 35 degrees again. The forecast calls for sleet and snow. I'm cold. I'm uncomfortable. I know that soon enough, there will be sunshine and the turn of the season.

Sometimes, it's hard to wait.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

the study has started

The research study I am volunteering for has begun. I have selected a mantra, from a list of choices -- om mani padme hum -- which is the one I am already used to. And I have picked my passage for meditation.

Let me tell you one thing
If you want peace of mind
Do not find fault with others
Rather learn to see your own faults
Learn to make the world your own
no one is a stranger, my child
This world is your own
== Devi

This is the passage I will use for my daily meditation for the next six months. I am journalling every day as well.

I will be meeting with a study guide every week as well.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

this resonates more

this resonates so much more for me than the ten commandments, and I think, leads to a better life

these are the 10 Grave Precepts of Buddhism:

# Affirm life; Do not kill.
# Be giving; Do not steal.
# Honor the body; Do not misuse sexuality.
# Manifest truth; Do not lie.
# Proceed clearly; Do not cloud the mind.
# See the perfection; Do not speak of others' errors and faults.
# Realize self and other as one; Do not elevate the self and blame others.
# Give generously; Do not be withholding.
# Actualize harmony; Do not be angry.
# Experience the intimacy of things; Do not defile the Three Treasures.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

a look into the past

To finish my graduate program, I have to submit a portfolio that is essentially a snapshot of my work toward the MLA. One of the sections is about why I went to graduate school, and why the MLA. Part of that section requires inclusion of the essay I wrote for my application. It's interesting to look back on that now, so here it is, what I wrote back in June of 2006 on why:

I haven’t written an essay in quite a while, so forgive me if I seem a little rusty. Hopefully, it will be like riding a bike, and it will just come back to me.

So why do I want to go back to school? And why a Masters in Liberal Arts? When you are a child, answers are easy and straightforward. I could just say, “I like school” and be done with it. Or I could say, “because I want to”, and you would just smile and nod your head. Unfortunately, as you get older, reasons become more complex. It’s no longer just one thing. I suppose a part of why is because I simply miss the classroom experience. I miss reading interesting works, instead of technical articles. I miss discussion, real discussion with give and take and an exchange of ideas. It is possible that I even miss writing papers, or at least miss having written them.

Partially, it’s the practical that persuades me. Every year, this fine institution sees fit to give me tuition remission. And every year, I just let it sit, without doing anything with it. The good, blue-collar person inside says “What are you doing? That’s like throwing away money!” When else will I ever get to go to school on someone else’s dime? I occasionally like to do something rational.

I also have a sense that I’ve left something undone. Years ago, I took a few graduate classes in English, with the thought that I would like to be a professor. It turns out that I loved the learning, but was not really cut out for the profession. I still feel like I have work left to do at that level, that perhaps there is a book or two in me after all. Without the school framework, I doubt I would ever write them.

Professionally, I am on shakier ground. I have a decent career as a database analyst and programmer. The addition of an MLA after my name will probably do little or nothing to advance that career. It’s not going to get me a raise or a promotion or open up other opportunities for me. It is true that for some positions , employers want an advanced degree, and don’t care particularly much which flavor it is. But the truth is that I am forty-three years old. I have accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to accomplish from a career standpoint. A bigger job doesn’t interest me.

I have reached a point where I can take some time to do what I want to do. And this is what I want to do.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

the happy accident

We have become used to finding what we are looking for, or not even having to look. We do internet searches, and then sift through matches. We have apps that bring us things we are looking for. We have a GPS so we get exactly where we are going. I can download articles for papers, never having to search the stacks. I can listen to internet radio, and it will suggest things like what I already like.

I am troubled by all of this. What happens when we no longer find what we are NOT looking for? where is serendipity, stumbling on something, the happy accident? What happens to discovery? How do we expand, broaden our interests, branch out?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

the human cost

I think we need some sort of new calculus, a way of factoring in the human cost to political decisions. What is the cost of Mubarak's decision to stay in power? In Egypt, people are fighting, getting injured, some dying, to end an oppressive regime. What does our military presence in the Middle East cost us? We know the dollars and cents answers. But our soldiers are dying in Iraq, in Afghanistan, over 5000 of them, in what appears to be an endless conflict. At home, some in Congress are trying to limit the definition of what constitutes rape, in order to save money on healthcare.

I think if we re-did the math, we'd find the human cost is just too high.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

guinea pig, the beginning

I went over to Hopkins Bayview today to participate in a screening for a research study. I parked in the wrong lot, got horribly twisted around trying to find the building, and finally had to call for directions. I was about 10 minutes late.

The coordinator/assistant for the study was very nice, very friendly and outgoing. We chatted as I filled out the requisite permissions, acknowledgments of rights, and medical forms. I took psych inventories, where you check yes or no for each statement listed. Most were pretty run of the mill, but it included "my tv or radio has secret messages for me" and "before the age of 15, I tortured small animals"... I had 5 tubes of blood taken, had an EKG, and a short physical. I got measured (I'm 5ft 4 and a HALF inches), weighed (her scale is more forgiving than mine, only 142 in her office), blood pressure (120/80 on the nose), had my reflexes checked, etc.

I met with a psychologist, who asked tons of questions about my family, my moods, was I ever traumatized, etc.

Then I did a couple of computer games. In one, I clicked Cooperate or Defect, and the computer also picks cooperate or defect. Depending how my answers matched up with the computer, I "earned" $5 to $25 of fake game money for each answer. There were patterns, and then the patterns would change, etc.

The second game was much longer, and more frustrating. I had to click the mouse if a long line was displayed on screen, not click if it was short. The line would appear and then quickly get masked with a distracting pattern. I had a very hard time not clicking on the short lines. No score, or any way to really know how you did, or whether there was even a point to the game.

If my bloodwork comes back ok, and I passed the tests, I will meet once a week either individually or in a group (two randomized study cohorts), and learn meditation and guided imagery techniques. I will be asked to keep a daily journal, meditate 10-30 minutes every day and do some mindfulness exercises daily as well. I will have two supervised trips with psylocybin. During these, I will have a guide/facilitator on hand as well as medical supervision.

The whole study is 6-8 months long. It is an uncompensated study -- they pay for my parking, but that's it. In a previous version of the study, 25 of 28 participants said it had been life-altering in a positive way. They reported less stress, more compassion and a pervasive sense of well-being.

I think it is worth it, solely for the structure it will give to my meditation practice. Hopefully, it will provide me with the skills to continue the practice on my own.

Monday, January 24, 2011

what is enough?

Some of what I have seen and read recently has me puzzled. I am wondering what is enough? The other day I read an article about people turning spare bedrooms into walk in closets. Walk-in closets. Because they have so many clothes, shoes, purses, etc that they cannot fit in a normal walk-in closet. This is not the problem of someone in an old house like mine, where the closets are about 18 inches wide. These are people who cannot fit their wardrobe in a large-ish walkin closet. What is enough?

An entire industry has grown around the storage of stuff. People pay rent, not for their home, but for a place to store the stuff they can't fit in their homes. And the American home is huge. I have been watching HGTV, a show about first time buyers. They want granite counters, walk in closets, huge bathrooms with soaking tubs. 2400 square feet is "kinda small". Big house, big furniture, big mortgage, big utility foot-print.

We eat enough food for two people. Maybe three. Starbucks just introduced a new drink, the trenta. That's a 30 ounce drink. Checkers makes a burger that is 4 beef patties, 4 slices of cheese, 4 slices of bacon.

Executive pay has reached new heights. No longer content with 50 times the average worker's salary, CEOs are asking for, and getting 500 times the average employee's wages. And then corporations lay off employees to be more profitable. Crazy.

It's all so excessive. So much more than what's needed. It's as if everything is a game, and quantity is the ultimate way of keeping score.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

cod fish stew

Cod Fish Stew perfect for an icy day

32 oz swanson's ff vegetable broth
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1.5 pounds of cod pieces, cut into chunks (trader joes sells in the freezer section)
1 cup of frozen corn
4 yukon gold potatoes, smallish dice
1 onion
3 slices of bacon, diced
1 cup sliced fresh fennel (bulb part))
1/2 cup of diced red peppers
1/3 cup chopped flat parsley
1 tsp of thyme
1/2 tsp of cracked black pepper

In a large dutch oven, or sauce pan, cook bacon one minute. add potatoes, onions, red peppers, fennel. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, tomatoes, corn, parsley, thyme and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 1-2 hours, until potatoes are done. Add cod. Cook 4 minutes or just until cod is cooked through. Serve with good crusty bread.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

what I do

From time to time, I am asked what I do. This is always a reference to my profession. And I give various answers: computer geek, programmer, IT Manager, work with computers. I think I assume people don't want detail, and/or wouldn't understand what I do.

My usual day runs like this. I get in, login to my computer. I make sure I can access the databases I am responsible for. I open our techsupport mailbox, so I can respond and route requests throughout the day. I check on our facebook page, and our twitter account. I check my office email, so I can respond to requests that come there as well. I run a few informational queries that let me know where we are with registrations, that certain back end processes are running. Then I divide my time between working on database projects or programming projects, and responding to what comes in. This might be a request for information from a vendor or partner or some other department in the institution (how many left handed physicians from idaho took courses lasts year?). It might be a registrant who can't retrieve their transcript online. It might be a staff member who needs help with their software, or needs to market a course with an email blast. I forward tasks to our web programmer or tech support analyst - anything I can get off my plate, I do. I am learning to delegate. It's hard, but is better in the long run.

If there is a problem, everything else drops off while I deal with it. If the website is down, that becomes my priority. If we can't authorize credit card charges, that's the priority. I do a kind of technical triage all day long -- what has to be done, what can wait.

I have a lot of meetings. I am on the Executive Staff team at work; so we have regular meetings for that. I meet once a month with my team, so we update each other on projects, issues, schedules. I meet with our web support folks once a month. Once in a while I go to our advisory board meetings, or to the coordinators team meetings. I meet with prospective vendors, to look at software and hardware we might be purchasing. When we hire for certain positions, I am part of the interview process. There are meetings with other folks at the institution outside our department. I try to tell myself that meeting time is not a waste -- it is all part of the job, so even if it doesn't feel productive to me, it is still work.

I do administrative crap. Purchasing. Approving bills. Time Sheets. Reviews. Approving leave. I only have two people to manage so it isn't horrible, but I like it least of all I do.

I love the problem-solving aspect -- the struggling to get something to work and then figuring it out. It keeps me challenged, and thinking. And I love the people interaction -- the helping aspect. It really energizes me to be able to help someone do something in a way that makes it easier, or better, or just plain possible. If I can take a problem off of someone's shoulders, it makes my day.

so that's what I do. The labels -- programmer,database administrator, web administrator, manager, business analyst -- are just words.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

for the love of the game

Another football season winds its way down. My beloved Ravens once again made the playoffs, but failed to make the Superbowl. I wonder why I always feel so let down when this happens? I'm not playing. I don't know any of the players. I don't have season tickets. I invest nothing but my time, to watch the games. Yet, when they lose, I feel bad. Conversely, when they win, I feel terrific. Is it competition by proxy?

I do know that I love the game. I really do. I know this puzzles some folks. It doesn't seem in keeping with my other interests. I don't love ALL sports. Just football. Baseball is somehow seen as more intellectual. No one would have a problem with me loving baseball. But football is a brutish thing, or so it is regarded in some circles.

I think that's why I love it. I love the basic, primal nature of it. It isn't about intellect. Although smarts can help win games. It is really a physical contest, played out by people who border on superhuman. Most folks could play baseball. Not well, but they could play. Few people could play football. I can't watch the game and think that with practice, I could do that. It is like watching the Olympics. The human body outperforms what human bodies can do -- it is physical strength, stamina, dexterity all on display.

I love it, and when the season is over, I miss it. Maybe that's why I hate when we don't make the superbowl. It cuts my season short. I don't get the last drop.

Monday, January 10, 2011

the energy of the new year

While I am physically tired, having not slept well in many many days, I am mentally energized. I had my weigh-in this morning for my work's Biggest Loser competition. It is a team competition, so I am partnered with a group from my office. There are ten of us, and our group percentage of weight loss is what counts. We are encouraging each other, taking walks at lunch, or exercise classes, and generally keeping each other on track. We weigh in once a month for 3 months for the competition, and we are weighing in once a week in our office, to track our progress. A co-worker has developed a system so none of us knows who weighs what. we submit slips of paper with our weight on them, but not our names. The total is added together, and then the percent lost or gained in aggregate is tracked, so no one has to be embarassed if they don't lose, or don't want to disclose their weight to the group.

I got through the initial screening for the spirituality study. I go on the 25th for a 5-6 hour more rigorous testing, including psych tests, after which I will know if I am accepted into the study.

I've been reading all the books I bought at xmas, and all the books I stacked up to read after school was over. So it's all fun stuff. Just finished the first book in The Hunger Games series. Very nicely done.

I've also been treating myself to a lot of video watching. I go all 5 seasons of The Wire for xmas, and I am watching the whole series in order. I am halfway through season 2 and it is just brilliant. And has an added dimension as I recognize the locations in the series. Our son's drama teacher is also in several episodes, and that is also fun, getting to watch her work.

I cleaned out a lot of clutter and junk drawers over break, and that has been really mentally freeing. I don't know how that works, but it does. Maybe some space in my brain was occupied on some level with planning to do something about all the junk.

A lot of huge projects at work are coming to an end in the next month or so. This feels terrific. I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment, as well as a HUGE weight off my shoulders. It feels great to be productive, to be contributing something, to be succeeding at tasks I once thought impossible.

It's fun, like I'm firing on all cylinders, however briefly.

Monday, January 03, 2011

lab rat

I am contemplating being a guinea pig. Again. I used to make a few dollars now and again, by participating in university research as a test subject/paid volunteer. I have tested fabrics, by wearing uncomfortable shirts while pedalling on an exercise bike (they were testing wicking, so I had to sweat!). I volunteered at Goddard, testing robotic arms and remote sensing. It was like playing the world's coolest video game. I moved a robot arm across a simulated lunar landscape, and tried to pick things up while looking in a reverse image in a mirror. Odd, but fun.

the current prospect is a spiritual/meditative research project. It's a six to eight month study, with meditation, and three psilocybin sessions. Yup, shrooms. The hypothesis is that the meditation and the shrooms combine to produce a transcendent, spiritual experience. As a faithless person, a serious atheist, this is just too intriguing to pass up. If the time commitment is reasonable, and the risk is non-existent, and I turn out to be an acceptable test subject, I am definitely going to do it. I'll know more tomorrow, after my phone interview and info session.

In an earlier study by the same researcher, 22 out of 28 subjects said the experience changed their lives... for the better. Hmmmm...