Aluminum Foil and Sub-Arctic Sleeping Arrangements

 

In tenth grade I was a mess. I was very small and quite erratic: mentally, socially, physically and spiritually. I knew there was a god out there but after the suicide of my friend, I couldn’t understand the game plan. I stayed up most nights either wandering the lake my family lived on or driving my mountain bike over to Bill’s house.  

As you can imagine, I made a seemingly easy target for bullies.

I had made friends with a girl in my grade. I never made a move or asked her out. I was simply happy to have a friend.

Her boyfriend wasn’t so happy about it.

One day in gym class I was running down the field and he took me out. I ended up a tangled mess of elbows, knees and rage.

The gym teacher saw what happened and looked the other way. He disliked me chiefly because I was not likable at that age. The guy that took me out was one of the football players. He was one of the “good kids.” My claim to fame was that I had quit the wrestling team and had many social/ societal/authority issues.

In other words I was an outsider.

I picked myself up and headed inside. In the locker room this guy, let’s call him Football Head (FB), said he was going to kick my ass.

Later that afternoon I ended up at Bill’s house, as usual. I was talking to him about what to do.  FB was bigger than both of us and was kind of friends with Bill – they were both on sports teams together.

Our friend Michael Marsh overhead this conversation. He asked who we were talking about.  I told him the story and didn’t think much about it after that.

I was ready in school the next day for FB when he came up to me. I had been here before. We moved a lot growing up. Bullies always take their time to start a fight.

It’s best to hit first.

As FB walked up to me I clenched my fist, gritted my teeth and sunk lower in my stance.

He reached out with his hand for me to shake. It just hung there like an unopened letter.

I looked at the hand, suspended in air. Not making a move.

I’m sorry he blurted out grabbing my hand. The look on his face was nothing but fear. He shook my hand and said, I don’t want any trouble. I’m sorry.

He left me in the locker room stunned.

Later that day, back at Bill’s, I told him the story. Bill just shrugged his shoulders. We went over to Marshy’s house to see what he was up to. I told him what happened.

Marshy said, of course, Guito (that’s what he called me). I told him he was on the list.

The list?

Yeah, I have a list of people that do bad things. And I’m going to pay every one of those people back.

But I thought you guys were friends?

Friends? Not really. Besides, he shouldn’t be picking on you, he’s much bigger. I hate that. I hate when people make you feel this way. Yep. I told him I moved him up to number one.

And that was that. I never had trouble from FB again.

I guess a couple words of explanation are due?

Marshy grew up on Fair Street in Otego, New York. He was an outlier. He was on the fringe. He was also a little too smart. After scoring very high on the SAT’s he was courted by universities and the military.

Instead of accepting these offers, he decided to live underground, literally for two years.

Along the way, he lived outside in negative 30 degree winters in upstate New York. Decided to flatten out the back lawn because the angles of solar reflection were interfering with his thoughts. There was the time he tied a loaf of bread onto the frame of his bike and pedaled from Cape Cod back to upstate New York because, as he joked, it was all downhill.

Marshy had a long and complicated personal and family history with mental illness. So when he said you are on the list, there was no doubt that there was an actual list. Marshy’s story also makes his decision to help me all the more meaningful. Basically, every kid wants to fit in. Every kid wants and needs people to like them. By helping me, a complete outsider, Marshy jeopardized what little he had in common with the more popular kids. And that sort of uncommon courage sums up Marshy, himself.

Years ago when my first mentor died (http://th3rdforce.com/?p=384) I went back to upstate and stayed at Bill’s family home. We knocked on Marshy’s door. To be honest I was apprehensive. I had never called to check in. I knew he wasn’t doing well. When he opened the door he came outside and told me about his latest project – putting aluminum foil on all of his plants and taking massive quantities of rare mineral salts. He joined us for dinner later that evening.

What I remembered about that evening was that instead of making me feel uncomfortable, he complimented me on how good I looked. He was deeply interested in how my life had worked out. He asked me a lot of questions about being married. Having kids. At the end of our talk, he looked pleased. He told me, I’m glad you are OK because you really see things. I knew what he meant, outlier to outlier.

These stories about Marshy I shared with you all are part of the glue that binds that group of friends I grew up with. We share these stories with each other when we visit. We don’t talk about characters in TV shows or movies. We share the real-life stories of our friends because in reality, these heroes are the only people worth keeping company with.

Another thing that Marshy did for me was again give me a different perspective on life. A few months ago he was diagnosed with cancer. I called the hospital room but could not get to him. He blocked all calls.

Bill and his father went to visit Marshy. The visit didn’t go well. Marshy had lost what little traction he had with this reality. Mr. Donnelly left the room and Bill told me it took maybe 20 minutes to get through the anger, frustration and paranoia.

The demons had taken over.

In the end though, Marshy made his last appearance. He came back for a few moments before losing himself against the tide.

That final lesson?

Well there was no doubt Marshy was in pain and was suffering terribly from his cancer and his inner demons.

We all know that light is the only way to dispel darkness. And for me, pain is simply the darkness we choose to share with ourselves, by ourselves.

Marshy not only asked Mr. Donnelly to leave, but eventually refused further contact with Bill after a few more weeks.

He ended his life as he wished to. Alone in a room by himself on April 18, 2015.

But you see it didn’t work. He closed that door but we were still there, talking about him and sending him good thoughts.

I thought, driving to work the other day, in what way am I closing doors on the ones that could ease my pain? In what ways are my own decisions leading to more pain?

Bill and I will continue to share these stories. We will continue to keep the memory of our friend alive, in real time.

This morning I told a very cleaned up version of the story of “the list” to my kids. My youngest got quiet for a minute. I looked over at her. Hon, I said, what are you thinking about?

Her eyes were hooded and she was lost in thought. She smiled. A list poppa! Your friend was so lucky he had a whole list of people close to his heart. I can’t wait to hear him.

Hear him?

Yeah, when he tells god to look after you because he’s not here anymore, I’ll hear it.

With that, all 8 years of her walked up the stairs and got ready for her school day.

Goodbye my brother. You will be missed, but more importantly, you will live on.

Photo  Credit: www.deviantart.com

Making Sense Of It All (Part 3)

 

After that second beer my buddy took off. I sat in the yard watching my kids ride their bikes. The sun had come out and shone brightly on my body. For once I sat there absorbing that warmth.

I had to admit, I felt great. A steady rush of adrenalin was coursing through my system. I love riding that wave. I can sense when my nervous system is getting jacked up. I fan the fires until I’m part of that hormonal storm.

I was riding that wave even as I put my kids to sleep. I poured a proper dram of Redbreast Whisky and sent off some messages to my Ski To Sea team, and to my friends on Quora. Then I dialed myself down and watched a movie. Afterward I laid my head to the pillow and went out without any fight.

I woke up several times to monitor my daughter’s blood sugar levels that night. I noticed my hand shaking very badly at the 3 a.m. check. Must be coming off of that ride. I sat up in bed, meditating until sleep took me to the other side of night.

I woke up at 7 a.m.

Nobody awake yet. Good, I thought to myself. I propped myself up in bed and meditated for a good hour or so. I woke up and prepared a beautiful pot of French press coffee.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was not all the way right.

The kids woke up and we made breakfast. Afterward I was tired, so they played games while I fell asleep on the couch. My wife came home a few hours later. We gave her all the gory details.

She asked me before we went to bed. Were you scared out there in the water?

No, I told her, we were not. You see I grew up on a lake in upstate New York. We flipped the canoe at all times of the year and even had the good sense to walk on thin ice and break through.

Being cold in a canoe, if anything, reminded me of my high school days.

Do you remember the movie, What About Bob? Another one of Bill Murray’s fine works. There is a scene where he (a man with severe psychological problems) is working through his fears. He is afraid of the water. In order to conquer the fear, he straps himself to the mast and as the camera pans to him, he’s yelling “I’m Sailing. I’m Sailing.”

In an image, that’s what was going through my mind as the water rushed all about us. That’s what I thought of when my skin started burning. There we were in the lake, sailing underwater, as it were. No big deal.

Monday came and I woke up, off. Here’s the deal.  When I wake up I give thanks for my family and my friends and my health and. . .  And then in the silence that follows I feel the rush of energy. It courses through my body and simply radiates. That feeling of energy runs through me as a living current. It’s how I wake up. It’s how I am.

I sat in bed waiting for it to come. It never did. Strange I thought to myself, getting out of bed. My mood was flat. I got irritated waiting for the girls to get ready for school.

At work it just got worse. It was if all the angles and trajectories had been chiseled down into a flat line. There was nothing to ride. Nothing to crank up for or about.

I was not happy. I was not sad. I was not calm. I was not agitated. I simply was along for the ride.

Over the years I have heard patients say that after a close call they just felt down. This feeling of being down was often mistaken by their peer group as dissatisfaction or even worse, depression. Having been close to the edge more than a few times I was not prepared for this reaction: a flat line.

When the adrenal system kicked into fight or flight and the water started bringing my core temperature down the body went into an emergency state. And now I was paying for that excess.

 

__________________________________

Pro-Tip #1

You may not have a big emotional response to a close call and this is fine. Be aware however, that you will have to repay that overload in the nervous system. You may find yourself tired for days. Tired isn’t the right word: bone weary is a better fit.

__________________________________

Let’s say, for this field guide, that things had gone wrong and the mind got caught up in the moment and went down like a plane falling out of the sky.

About 5 weeks before my marriage my wife and I were driving home from Prince Rupert, B.C. 

For some reason, I didn’t sleep much at all the night before. I was so tired that my wife offered to drive. I took her up on that kindness and put my seat in full recline position.

Off to sleep I went. I, to quote Walt Whitman, I loafed and I invited my soul. . .

Bam. The next thing I heard, and to this day continue to hear, was a large bang, like a paper bag made of metal rupturing on all sides of me.

I opened my eyes as I was thrown forward in my seat. The seat belt grabbed me and then I felt another impact – an aerial rag doll in flight for a brief moment.

I must have blacked out for a couple of moments. Honestly I don’t recall anything afterward. I tried to open my eyes. They were covered in the dust from broken glass. I was wet. I could feel that. I kept trying to get the glass and blood out of my mouth.

Tears running down my face. The pain was overwhelming. My fiance was talking to me. I couldn’t understand what happened.

Then I felt the world dissolving around me. Stay here. Stay here.

What’s happening?

It’s raining honey, my fiance’s voice was a thin wire connecting me to this world. The roof was torn off.

Where’s the roof?

A deer jumped into us. It went through the windshield. As it rolled over the car it got caught up in the kayak racks and got gutted. It took the roof with it. We were covered in a coagulating blanket of blood, hair and glass dust.

Are you OK? Can you hear me?

Tears were streaking down my face. I thought for sure I was going to throw up. I had to go to the bathroom.

I felt fingers on my face. How did Kerry get on the other side of the car? How did she get outside of the car? The fingers on my face were gentle. I was shaking by now. Wet.

I am an EMT. I got you. What happened? Are you alright? She asked my wife these questions in rapid fire, all the while trying to clear my eyes.

Gloves?

What?

I can feel your skin on mine. You should have gloves on if you are doing this.

Her voice shook a bit as she told me to not worry about her. By then she was trying to get us covered up from the rain. The sky opened up and it started pouring. She tried to put up clothes from the back seat but everything was covered in blood.

I’m just up here on vacation. We were the first car on the scene, she explained to my wife.

It took a while for the ambulance to show up. I was in and out. They were irrigating my eyes. I was separated from Kerry. I was on a stretcher on the road.

People were looking on. Then I saw him. A guy from the wedding last night. Why was he here? He had a strange look on his face. At this moment my nervous system and I parted ways. I freaked out. I thought for sure I was dead. How was this guy here? Four hours from the wedding? None of this was making sense. What else did I miss? An EMT would know not to put herself at risk trying to wipe blood out of the eyes of some stranger.

Kerry, Kerry. They are coming for me. They are coming for me. I didn’t know if I was saying this out loud or not. The world stopped and I blacked out.

About five weeks later my buddies came out for my wedding. New York was still on fire as their plane took flight over the city. There were a few days we couldn’t get hold of Bill. He sent me an email, from Manhattan, which back then was strange, saying he was OK.

My wife and I were married Sept 22, 2001.

In the weeks and years before and after, what should have been going through my head was memories of the wedding. Instead I was seeing the car accident, dozens and dozens of times each day. It is always the same: that bang, sensation of flight, impact, white noise.

We were also living off of credit cards by this point. I had been unable to work for weeks (my clinic was less that a year old so we were flat broke to begin with). That thin line we as a family walked became a piano wire around my neck. I was bleeding out on all sides.

__________________________________

Pro-Tip #2

When you are got up in the thralls of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome there is something you can do. I nicknamed my technique, going to the movies. At first, when the film ran, my heart rate and blood pressure spiked out of control. I started playing a game with myself. When the film ran, I focused on my breath. I went into meditation mode. Within a couple of weeks I could watch the film without noticeable changes in heart rate, emotion or blood pressure. This went on for almost two years. The film would play, I observed. The film ended. I went on with my life. Yesterday driving home, I was thinking of this post, when I heard that sound again, bam. No film. Just the noise. Where’s the popcorn when you need it? So if you don’t have a meditation practice going, this, I hope is good incentive to look at starting one.

__________________________________

Prior to the car accident I was becoming morbidly preoccupied with the clinic going out of business. Why? I have no idea. The stress of being a first-time business owner had gotten to me. I was sure the clinic was failing. After the car accident, we did. We were in an economic free fall. After the accident I lost fine motor control of my left hand (which is quite a problem for a left-handed acupuncturist) and couldn’t feel my right leg or foot for several years. I also, at this time, started having very intense migraines. After several weeks I went back to work and had to needle right handed for a while. Faced with our imminent closure I learned another valuable lesson.

__________________________________

Pro Tip #3

Ask for help. When you are down and there is nowhere concrete to go you have to ask for help.

__________________________________

I wrote a letter to all of my patients and explained to them that after the car accident I was unable to continue with my work. I mailed it out on Friday. By Monday the next week I had a string of phone calls. My patients and former patients wanted to come in. They were bringing friends. And slowly, very slowly, the dream of my clinic was born again and continues to this day. I dropped all pretense of the ideas of work and free time and threw myself into my practice. The clinic was living on borrowed time. I had to repay it by mastering the medicine. I had to repay the kindness I received by helping alleviate the suffering of others.

In parting, there is nothing to learn gratuitously by suffering or coming close to death. You have to find the lessons and they are written in pain. They are forged in agony. And these lessons can, as St. John of the Cross promised, transmute our soul into something that feels more divine than human.  

Photo Credit: vickiwhiting.com

Field Guide To Near Death Experiences: Part 2

FullSizeRenderThe Rescue Photo!

 

Waves are crashing over our head. The wind is whipping. The sky went dark.

We try a very lame and poorly executed canoe flip. It doesn’t work. Two years ago I managed a self-rescue on my solo canoe when I got certified for Level 1 Wilderness Canoe Skills. I remembered that day. It was sunny day, with just a little bit of snow falling. Pleasant except for the whole freezing in the water thing, but, they did provide us wet suits which we did not have the foresight to procure for our present venture.

So much for school and gentler days. Out here we are getting our asses kicked.

I finally catch my breath. We decide to head for the shore. We each grab a part of the canoe and start paddling towards land. We check in with each other. My friend is white as the caps which are everywhere by now. I tell him my death speech, now I’m riffing off of another awful movie, The Perfect Storm. We both start laughing. More paddling. Each time a wave breaks over my head it clears the water that had been warming by my skin in my jacket. My skin is burning.

Well ahhhh. Bless me father for I have sinnnnnnnnned. But it’s the same old story again and again and again. Ah!

We are singing Flogging Molly to each other. We are the Rebels of the Sacred Heart. And our sacred hearts are feeling icy cold by now.

I don’t think we are making much progress to shore. My buddy disagrees. I like his version much better than mine. One benefit of the aging process: I don’t argue points I don’t want to win.

I’m feeling a second me. As if my awareness just moved a couple inches lateral to the rest of my body. I am OK with this. I’m focusing on my breathing now. I’m in an underwater zendo. Life is good. I am good with the world. Growing up in upstate New York we would flip our canoe at all times of the year. What can I say? Not much to do up there. I’m good with the memories and the swim.

However I am not good with the sirens. I hear them now. We look up the lake. Nobody and nothing in the water. A motor boat had passed us when we first flipped. They drove right by. There was no way they could have seen us in those waves.

I don’t see any boats. Me neither. I have a passing idea that I’m thinking in the third person. Hmm. Shelf that one for now.

We look to the shore. There it is. An ambulance driving slowly on the road.

God, dearest God, I say, please let them keep driving.

They pass us, moving slowly.

Victory I think.

The little red wagon (thank you for that Armin) slows down. I see a row boat coming towards us. More waves crash over my head. The skin stopped burning a while ago.

“Get in the boat. Hop over the side.” He’s done this before. “Don’t worry about your boat. I promise you it’s not going anywhere and I promise I will come back for it.”

My buddy says, take him.

Take him? What is he talking about? I’m staying with the boat. The guy turns towards me and watches me try to get in the boat. He reaches over and hauls me in.  Like a dead salmon, I flop to the bottom of the boat.

I say thank you so much for helping us. I am Scott. He looks at me and says nothing for a few minutes.

“You know the bay is 50 degrees and this water is 51 degrees. It’s cold out here. Cold enough to take you with it.”

He’s not looking at me, oh kind-hearted, stone faced no name. Now he’s moving the boat over to my buddy. He’s in a catamaran dinghy. It’s not flipping over. Not by a long shot. He hauls my friend in. I offer to row back to shore. He doesn’t look at me. He rows us in to our welcome committee: the paramedics are here! The paramedics are here!

I do the old, I’m right as rain. Just want to get my boat and we will be off. No thanks don’t need any help. One of the medics says, fine, let me just get a temperature from you. He has some new high tech gizmo that is supposed to read your temp with a forehead swipe.

It’s not registering, he says, which means you have won a trip to the back of the ambulance.

I’m trying to follow him to the back of the ambulance. My legs aren’t working right. I have to look down at where they are moving and how they are stepping.

The medics fumble around with a couple different thermometers. Someone turns on the heat. Finally a temperature: 92.3, blood pressure 160/110 and pulse rate 110. They put me into sweats and throw a black hat on my head.

I’m not going into the hospital. I am not going to the hospital. I focus on my breathing. Turns out my friend is better adapted to the cold. He beats me by a full degree and a point two. He’s at 93.5 and his BP is elevated, but not by much.

Good grief I think. I would go down first.  Shelf that thought.

We hang out with the guys. They do their job attentively. I do my best to get the hell out of there. When we reach 95 degrees we are set free, almost.

We have no ride to pick us up. They offer to slog us back to my truck. I try to talk them into a drop off near the truck. No use alerting an entire parking lot of our predilection to drama and frigid waters.

No deal. They drop us off. We make some more jokes. I can’t resist a photo op. They snap the picture and we head back home to get warm clothes on.

About an hour later, there we are, boat safely home. Us safely home. The sun is, of course, out by now. We open a few beers have some honey mustard pretzels and my girls soak up every detail.

I am not really feeling anything special. No fear. No remorse. No irritation that they came and bailed us out. Just happy to be here in the sun, above the lake, which no longer has white caps.

_____________

In part 3 we will discuss the aftermath of this kind of event. The psyche reacts in ways that may not be readily apparent.

Your Field Guide To Near Death Experiences, Part 1

 

Rain had been falling for hours through the night and into the morning. The sky was barely a few shades brighter than when I left it the night before. Morning came with coffee and silence.

My morning meditation went like it sometimes does. I closed my eyes and didn’t find myself for the better part of an hour. When I opened my eyes I rubbed them with my palms. I gave thanks for the day and my family. Slowly I stood up, my mind turning to smoke and time.

My kids were upstairs asleep, for now. I lounged about the house fretting over my latest obsession: Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Manifesto. I spend days circling ideas. Sometimes those days stretch into years. It had been this way with Brisket since going to Austin, Texas for my first trip. This book has blown my mind. The brisket recipe is 14 pages long. There are several hundred pages and only 13-15 recipes. Most of the book is dedicated to the why of barbecue.

This morning’s obsession: short ribs, Texas style. You know those cute little short ribs they charge too much at fancy restaurants for? Well this is their big, bad brother. The monsters are almost a foot long and weigh several pounds. All they need is salt, pepper, smoke and time. I rubbed each rib and put them out on the smoker, breaking tradition I opt for apple wood, instead of post oak.

Kids were still asleep. I drank some more coffee.

My kids woke up. We shared a nice breakfast. My daughter’s latest love: gluten free dutch babies. My other can’t get enough of them stackers. Little pancakes layered in yogurt and berries. The stack is done when it falls over.

Another cup of coffee. My friend showed up and we packed up the canoe. It’s a beautiful thing. Full kevlar racing boat. We were training for the Ski To Sea Race. It’s the longest running multi-sport race in the United States. It starts with a cross country ski, then an uphill run/downhill ski, then a bicycle ride, then a canoe, then a mountain bike, then a kayak race. Bill is our runner, but like the snow (we are at less than 10% snow pack this year) had to sit this year out.

We put our canoe in the water. The rain had, for once, stopped. The sun was peeking out. Several boats were on the water. The Lummi tribe was racing their long boat. It’s a ten-person dugout. A gorgeous handmade wooden beauty. It’s fast and powerful on the water.

As we set off into the lake I started fixating on my stroke. I had been reading about the perfect stroke and after observing mine, admitted I had a long way to go. Oh well, in a race canoe, there are ample opportunities to get that perfect stroke down. One of the things I love about canoeing is the ability to make each stroke perfect. Just like Jiro and all of his dreams of Sushi.

A couple of things looking back. For some reason we didn’t head to our normal course. We always hug the far shore and stay close enough to shore that we can use markers on the shoreline for interval training (this is a terrible idea, maximum intensity paddling followed by a short rest and then maximum effort again).

We ended up in the middle of the lake. I wasn’t paying much attention to anything but my paddle. I was trying to time it so my power stroke would kick in only after the blade was well within the water.

My buddy and I chatter a lot when we paddle. We talk about everything. Most of the reason I am on the boat is to spend time together. We were talking when we noticed the water kick up.

Lake Whatcom is a ten mile long, one mile wide beautiful body of water nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. My wife and I spent our first two weeks in Bellingham lakeside, in a mother-in-law apartment that our friends were kind enough to let us stay in while we got situated. We love this lake, and canoeing puts me on it more often.

As the wind kicked up the sky darkened. Within minutes the wind started grabbing my paddle as I brought it forward in my stroke. I started grinning. This was turning into something more fun than torture training for the big race. Up ahead I saw a shelf of white caps coming.

Party time!

Splash. Water all over my lap.

Hmm. That’s not how our other canoe acts in rough water. Another wave, this time I focused on what was happening. I am in the bow. From this vantage point I can see the bow rise up in a swell and then submerge as the whitecaps break over us. We are taking in water from both the front and sides. I know why they call it green water now, because it looks green coming over the bow.

No worries. We have a self bailer.

Guess what? The self bailer doesn’t bail unless you are going faster than the water. So here we were fighting against wind and waves. Definitely not going faster than the water. Most likely we are taking in water from the bailer as well.

Ahhh. So now we are struggling to even go straight into the waves. No worries. By default, we angle towards the far shore. It’s a very long way off. We are taking in water. There is no way we will get there.

The next best decision. Try to turn around and then head straight for the nearest shore. We knew it would be risky, but it was really the only chance we had.

OK buddy you ready. Yeah. Let’s do it. Let’s do it all night long (who doesn’t give the movie Waterboy a nod when you are up a creek without a paddle?).

We initiate the turn. It’s going well for about 30 degrees. I see them coming. There should have been Jaws music out there. More white caps. The first one took us just behind me, on the side. We shifted to the right.

I looked back, my buddy was off balance (he took the wave) and we looked at each other for a brief moment before the next set of waves took us in one great seismic shift, up over and under.

I am not a big fan of swimming.

I am even less a big fan of swimming in 51 degree water.

I like even less than swimming and 51 degrees, not being able to catch my breath.

There we were, boat upturned, far from shore. I can’t catch my breath. My buddy checks in. I laugh, say, I’m good I just need to catch my breath.

Waves are crashing over our head. The wind is whipping. The sky is dark.

End of Part 1. Part 2 will cover not only how we get out of the water, but how the body deals with thermal shock. Part 3 will talk about how the psyche reacts to coming close to the big, deep six holiday.

 

Photo Credit: getwhatcomplanning.blogspot.com

Spring Is a Comin’

IMG_1354

I love the transition from winter to spring. Not so much saying goodbye to winter (one of my favorite seasons) but simply the changing of the world freshens my view of it as I go about my life.

Just as the seasons change, so do our own habits as people. In years past we would often go to books to learn things. Increasingly, we are turning away from hard copy and searching online for answers.

I do most of my learning outside these days. There are still lessons to be learned from the natural word. One of my favorite lessons is the turning of the seasons.

Here’s what I learned from spring so far.

  • When it’s time to bloom, it’s time to bloom.

We have such preconceived ideas around timing. Really these ideas are just attempts to control the chaos in our lives. A futile attempt to organize the world in a way that makes sense to our poor minds.

How many times have you heard yourself say, I want to make a change in my life. I’m only waiting for X to happen. Then everything will be set. Then I will know what to do.

It’s not true. We are simply saying the part of me that doesn’t want to change just hijacked my evolutionary drive and threw it under the buss. I am not ready to change because I don’t want to. There is no golden sequence. When the first shoot of green breaks through the ice, it’s spring.

It’s time to change when your heart tells you. It’s a good indicator that you are not following your path when you substitute excuses for action.

  • Weather is unpredictable.

We went to the Cascade mountains for Spring break. We packed gear for sun, rain, snow and cold. Sometimes on hikes we had a full buffet featuring little bites of each. A little bit of sun, some snow visible in the mountains and why not, let’s throw in some rain.  So often in life we prepare for one outcome. When it doesn’t come through we shudder, fall to the floor and ask ourselves what happened? You know what happened? We failed to grasp the opportunity that presented itself. All outcomes have potential. It’s when we don’t prepare ourselves for what comes next that we get into trouble.

  • The world spins on its axis regardless of what we want it to do: rejoice!

Our plans were nearly foiled by my daughter. She came down with tonsillitis right before the trip. Rather than cancelling or pushing her on the trip we simply stayed close to home. My wife and I alternating time with our other daughter. I spent a great deal of the trip meditating and resting. It was wonderful to come back to work so full of peace. I had absolutely no re-adjustment period. Beautiful.

  • Just as flowers bloom and birds come back to the trees, so too is it time to get outside more.

With the start of warmer weather I am always encouraged to see how many people change their winter habits. With the spring sunshine, they put on their garden gloves and get up close with the earth. For me, I am no hand at gardening, but I do radically increase my time outside practicing canoe racing for the Ski to Sea race. Last weekend we were on the water. There wasn’t much flow in the river but there were some bald eagles flying overhead. It’s really an honor to live among such beauty. It’s also great to be able to spend time with friends doing what I love.

So, in short, get out there. Tell us what you are learning. Class is open.

Spring Break, Give Me A Break

 

 

 

Spring Break. We were ready to rock. We were ready to roll. Day before the trip, my daughter’s tonsils swelled. They were a marvel of human potential. The image that came to mind were two liberty bells confined in a pink cave.

We could hear her breathing in the other room. Do you remember the Sleestaks? You know those creepy green things from Land of the Lost. It was that loud. And yes, I won Dad of the Year, 2015.

We took her in to see our pediatrician. He checked her over and said, it could take a few weeks. They didn’t prescribe antibiotics (I know we all like to bag on the MD’s and say they over-prescribe, but hey, insider’s tip, pediatricians have told me complaints have been filed against them because they wouldn’t give out antibiotics).

Hmm. Let me think about that one.

No. Being sick for a couple of weeks is out of the question. My wife called me at our Chinese Medicine clinic to give me the news. I said, great, the Chinese have been treating tonsillitis for thousands of years.

I brought home some herbs and started giving them to her. The next day we left for our 3 hour trip. My daughter read her books and slept along the way. My youngest talked nonstop. She was still talking as she drifted off to sleep. Nothing but the sound of the road under my tires and that Sleestak thing. 

Our typical Spring Break consists of snow boarding and skiing every day Mission Ridge is open. It’s a very kinetic blast of energy fueled by the local brewery, Icicle Creek, and our favorite restaurant, South.

The mountain was closed. No snow. Our daughter was far too ill to ski or hike anyway, so no worries there.

What to do, what to do?

We committed.

We were on vacation and we were there to have fun. Our mind/expectation had one version of the trip, our life had another.

So we dug in and took turns staying home. I meditated while my wife and daughter scrummed around town. While I took my other daughter out my wife did her thing as well.

It was a great trip because we decided to commit. We were all in. And it worked.

Last Saturday of our trip was the Taste of Leavenworth. We really didn’t know what to expect. Participating restaurants would give a taste of what they did to those of us with a taster passport.

We showed up to the first place. It was a cider tasting. Tasty, but guess what? Less than a quarter ounce pour. Hard to taste anything in that manner.

Oh good grief I thought. A day full of this. The kids didn’t say a word. My wife and I just exchanged glances.

The next place we stopped by was the Gingerbread Factory. They gave each kid a pack of two tiny, adorable ginger bread girls. The adults got a giant pear decorated cookie. They rocked it.

Our favorite deli gave out meat cones – a great selection of cheese and charcuterie. Next door they had a sausage garden. Their passport was a full, handmade, organic sausage on a bun. It was a meal.

At the end of the day we had visited so many shops and had been turned on by so many different places that we were stoked.

My kids asked me why I thought it was so good.

I said, the same reason we had such a great vacation. We committed to an ideal and stuck to it. Just like the businesses. They gave it their best and it showed.

Then they asked, why was the first place so bad? Well, I said, that lady obviously didn’t want to be there. She wasn’t shy she just didn’t really like people all that much. And they were stingy. They had a great product but didn’t give people enough of a taste to really make up their minds.

If she didn’t make up here mind to be there, they asked, why was she there?

That kids, is the nature of the life. You can’t just be a passive observer. You have to get out there and turn the world on fire with your enthusiasm. You have to summon to your will all the tools, strategies and techniques you have gained when you are doing something. Nobody is holding us hostage. Nobody is forcing us to do anything. What there is, is a choice.

And we choose to make our claim to something better than just showing up.

Dad!

Dad! You are being weird again.

Oh, that, um, again. Seriously though kids, would you rather show up to your life and not want to be there or have a great time no matter what happens?

Great, great they started chanting and jumping. Looks like we will be back next year and no it didn’t take two weeks for my daughter to recover. It took less than five.

Many thanks to the Masters who taught me medicine and the inspired cuisine of our favorite little mountain town.

You Don’t Have To Be A Picasso

image

I can’t draw a lick. Nor am I aesthetically gifted. I have two vivid recollections of my utter incompetence when it came to art class.

The first was the 4th grade when we were being introduced to pottery and the fiery kiln. I can still remember being scared shitless before that class.

The fateful day had arrived.

We would be molding our masterpieces and burning there henceforth immutable forms into place.

Ms. Blincoe our infinitely patient teacher, seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with me, but to no avail. I managed to create an amorphous circular type object that I sheepishly referred to as a coin dish.

My hope was the kiln had magical powers. The kiln could transform this object into a majestic piece.

Now, if you’re familiar with the process you know it’s drawn out over several days. There are additional handling and cleaning before the final glazing process.

Dante’s Inferno, errr the kiln was like the stove in the basement of all those Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Taunting me with its heated jaws. What followed was an insufferable few days. Soon those jaws would unveil my great opus. Soon the art world would never be the same. 

Slowly each project was removed. One after the other. Where was mine? Ah, I see the ultimate taunt. Saving the best for last, out it came.

Gravity scoffed.

It drooped and lacked anything resembling symmetry. This was an abject failure. I was embarrassed.

However, I managed to summon the courage to take it home and show it off to Ma and Pa. They were respectful and told little Billy that he had done a good job.

Later, they admitted that they had happily crossed art school off the list. The ‘bowl’ resides on my dresser in my parent’s house to this day. I can report no permanent emotion scarring.

In tenth grade(this was compulsory) it was on to linear perspective and vanishing points. It’s difficult to even type this withoutClaughing ing out loud. 

How in the hell was this gonna happen, I can’t even trace my hand?

Well, technically it didn’t. I went through the machinations. This lasted for a period of a few weeks under the tutelage of Mr. Schirmer.

Mr. Schirmer had massive forearms, but a really delicate and deft touch. I had puny forearms and the touch of a wild savage.

If you can picture an obtuse triangle stretched to the very limits of trigonometric absurdity then you may have an idea of my incompetence. However, this was my take on vanishing points. Feeling pity for his artless student, Mr. Schirmer generously assisted in my efforts and I ended up getting out of the course by skin of my teeth.

What prompted this waltz down amnesia lane? I have no talent for art, but it’s impact can still be tremendous. I’m blessed to live in NYC and have the opportunity to enjoy many exhibitions of art.

I’m sure you know the biggies, but recently I visited a gallery on the Lower East Side. They are highlighting Pieter Schoolwerth’s ” Your Vacuum Blows, Which Sucks” exhibition.

You had me at blows…Time Out magazine refers to his work, “as if Stephen Hawking meets Francis Bacon or vice versa.”

For me, a newly converted appreciator of art, it serves as inspiration. It serves as motivation to go and create. An opportunity to excel and endeavor to make a difference. To make use of those talents which are innate in me. A chance bring the pleasure and happiness that these beautiful artists do.

Of course, you don’t have to live in NYC to find beauty and inspiration. Go find those things that blow your hair back and get your juices flowing. Then add your own brush strokes to this great canopy.

May the Th3rdforce be with you.

Tired of Feeling Tired, Yet?

 

When I opened my Chinese Medicine clinic in 2000 my teacher asked me what I treated most often? Was it back pain? Neck pain? I remember blurting out, back pain. In my head I said, I think I read that somewhere.

He replied, I don’t want to know what you think. I want to know what you know. What do you know? He was staring at me through his heavily lidded eyes, which were somehow managing to glare at me behind that mass of bristling flesh.

So I crunched the numbers and guess what I found?

Neck pain? Migraines? Back pain? Asthma?

No, for sure these were all front runners, but the clear victor was

fatigue.

It appeared, if not in the main complaints, then in the health questionnaire we have patients fill out – it’s a torturous round of several hundred questions. We have people complain about it at times. I tell them, we are asking for your health story. Would you like us to use the cliff notes?

So, reader, what would you rate your own energy on a scale of 1-10?

Kind of hard to figure it out isn’t it.

Let’s break it down. In the following way.

How would you rate your:

  • Morning energy (rising)                                 ________
  • Afternoon energy (hour after lunch)            ________
  • Evening energy (driving home from work) ________

We are assuming that you have been checked by your doctor and have no issues with chronic fatigue, vitamin D, thyroid, etc.

Are the numbers stable? Let’s say they are around the 3 to 5 mark (that’s our average, after 15 years of asking). Well that’s an issue of metabolism. You need to rev up the engine. In most cases when we see those types of numbers we have patients take 3 to 4 seven minute walks throughout the day. We break these into smaller walks more frequently because exercise will increase metabolic rates. A consistent low level of energy is something that may be addressed simply as moving the body regularly.

Everything in the world is in a state of motion. Why shouldn’t we be?

Another scenario is that people score Ok in the morning and evening but poor in the afternoon. What’s the culprit?

Food. It’s that You are eating something that is taking the energy from your body instead of filling it with rocket fuel. Keep track of what you are eating and replace different foods and monitor how they react to your system.

Pro-tip. There is no health food. Stay away from the stuff. Drives me batty when people come in with their Amazonian nectar of eternal youth. Let someone else buy that stuff.

Also, learn which foods act as rocket fuel for your system. If I have a bowl of Pho, I can work like a madman for hours and hours. Put me on a vegetarian diet and it is like death warmed over, slowly and took its time. Blah.

Again, there is no diet plan that works for all people. You are a unique miracle of metabolic wonder. Find out how you work.

A third scenario is low energy in the morning and evening. This is most often the case in insomnia. The ancient Chinese doctors defined insomnia as any state of rest which does not recharge the body and mind.

Insomnia these days is from many factors. Here are some quick tips to improve sleep.

  • Turn off that computer by 7 p.m. Yes, I said the evil words. You do not need that thing and it will keep you awake.
  • Try not to eat after 8 p.m. The body does not need to work this hard this late at night. If it is very late, make a shake and call it a night.
  • If thoughts of sleeping in your head look like this: Oh God. I can’t sleep. I’m going to be so tired. I’m . . . . Read, getting really angry. Then it’s time to adopt a different approach. When you are restless, say to yourself, it’s true I may not sleep tonight but I would like to. That sentence does a couple of things. By admitting you may not sleep the mind knows you are not lying to it. It likes that. By offering a gentle hope, the mind has a destination. Telling yourself not to think about not sleeping is a guarantee of ending up sleepless.
  • Take a warm bath and transition directly into bed.
  • Pray or meditate 15 minutes before bed and 15 minutes after rising.
  • Prayer and meditation decrease the metabolic rate by up to 28%, sleep only 8%. Only 8%? Yes, how often have you been aware of thinking while sleeping? Happens all the time.

Photo courtesy of www.theleadershipnotebook.com

To Learn Or Not To Learn

From almost the first day of school a line was drawn: book or people. Some of us are life-long learners. We take courses online and in universities. Give us a book and a test and life is good.

Some of us learn to read the crowd. We have Ph.D.’s in the masses. We can read a group or an individual and know what they are going to do, sometimes before they do.

We are taught that we have to make a choice. Ever wonder why we let the herd position us into having only two choices? Books or people? Why do we have to choose between the two?

Personally, the system doesn’t work for me.

Love studying and love people. Can’t get enough of either subject. Hey are they really subjects? I know I’ve been called many things in my life. Not sure if subject really feels right, from the people part of my mind.

Yesterday I took my team to a team building/leadership class. It was important enough that I closed the entire clinic for the day.

Were we having problems?

No. Don’t ever go for help to a place that can’t help themselves. They are confused and they lack if not integrity, then the ability to do what they preach. Clinics are a place where patients are mentored back to a state of health in which they are charged to maintain it. If the clinic you go to can’t lead themselves (long wait times, rude staff) then there is very little chance you, the detail to them, is not going to get lost in the shuffle.

No, my clinic was not having problems. We went to refine our skill set. We went to learn and re-learn some materials so that we as a group can reach out and deal more effectively with ourselves and our patients.

The speaker got up. I split my mind into two. The first part went over the course: good materials, good sources. I was happy.

The second part of my mind studied the presenter. Right off the bat he made a joke, how many of you are here because you were forced to be or told to be? More than half of the audience raised their hands. I looked at my staff. They looked at me. We started laughing.

Problem here: Why did he choose that example? I wondered what part of him didn’t want to be here?

As he went on, he made a joke about the poor quality of his hotel, the long hours and bad pay. He said it didn’t matter because he loved what he did. I get it, trying to bridge a gap. I gave him that one. He was trying to find common ground with the audience.

Or was there another thing happening?

Within 20 minutes another reference to bad hotels and pay. Hmm, strike two. Now I know why he made that opening joke. He is very unhappy with his pay, his travel schedule, his hotels, etc.

As part of the audience I was wondering why he worked for such a crummy organization if he had valuable information to teach?

Crossroads. How many of us have been in this situation? We’ve paid for a class and the presenter’s issues are interfering with the information we are seeking?

How about an internal conversation? Decision tree time: throw the baby out with the bath water or find what I can and make it useful?

The people part of my mind identified him as a soul sucker. What could he possibly offer?

The mind steps in and says, quite a bit, actually.

In between jokes about his pay and long hours on the road we covered some great works by Maslow, the boss as coach, boosting morale through relationships not trust-falls (whoever came up with that idea is a genius marketer, because they seemed to be everywhere and I have yet to meet the person who said, until my group caught me I just couldn’t trust them. . . gasp), using creativity to solve problems instead of platitudes, self-analysis, etc.

While everyone was on breaks I was still on the job, watching the people. The range of complaints ranged from the job that brought them there, to audience members (me? I guess when I said the worse outcome of an HR meeting is assault, I stepped on some toes), to the presenter. One lady said, as the break was ending, two hours to go.

In my mind I wondered what was so pressing at home. Television? Kids? What?

I got back to my group and checked in. They were busy going over the section on self-empowered teams. How they saw themselves in that role and how it applied to tomorrow’s day.

We went through the class and I focused on my outcome. I came there to learn how to work better as a group member of a clinic. I didn’t care if the audience or the presenter were driving me crazy.

You know what would have driven me crazy? Going home the same way I came.

I finished the class with a question to the instructor: Why do you continue to work for a company you resent? I haven’t gotten a reply, yet.

In other words, when we make a choice and we know the benefits wouldn’t it make more sense to use both sides of your brain to extract every last bit of knowledge available? Why wouldn’t we separate the good from the bad and get what we need to learn?

The next time you go somewhere to learn break out that big melon of yours. Use all sides of it. There are academic and social parts of the brain hungry for knowledge. Put them together. Let them party.

Each day is an opportunity to break new ground.

Learn new things.

Image: coronadousd.net

Only Through The Eyes Of A Child

It’s funny how wisdom chases us through the ages. Some lessons keep coming back to us. Some themes keep getting louder the longer we live.

Here’s one that keeps coming back to me: attachment.

I first read about these concepts attachment/detachment as a teenager in upstate New York. I was a strange kid. Couldn’t get enough Eastern philosophy into my head. By the time I was in high school I was reading and learning from the greats: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Han Shan, etc.

Here’s the scene. Bill (TH3RD FORCE cofounder) and I were up at the beach in Cooperstown, sitting on a towel. We were high school seniors making our move with the local ladies.

Our move consisted of not talking to anyone. We paired that with not really making eye contact with anyone either. We did play the Deadmilk Men loudly on an old boom box.

“This sucks,” said Bill, “We haven’t talked to anyone yet.”

“Yeah,” said I, “they don’t know what they are missing.”

We sat there for a while waiting for something, anything to happen. As the temperature dropped we went to town for a couple of slices of pizza. We saw some of the same girls at the pizza restaurant.

We didn’t talk to them. They didn’t talk to us.

Like a lightning bolt it hit me.

“Hey Bill, we don’t have to worry. We should not be attached to this whole thing.”

“We don’t?”

“No. Nah. We’re just not attached to it. I’ve been reading the Dao De Ching and I think this is what he was talking about.”

“Us?”

“Um. Well, sure.”

Silence. We didn’t really believe, at that moment, that the Dao De Ching was written with us in mind. The book is several thousand years old and shaped Chinese philosophy to be what it is today.

We went home, unattached as it were.

_______

I am crazy loyal when it comes to my friends. If anyone or anything is doing them a disservice I get irrational quickly. I can’t stand the thought of anyone I love being hurt.

Here’s the next scene. A buddy of mine is being taken advantage of. He’s doing all the work in a project that is supposed to be shared. When he’s working, his partner is off screwing around.

One day another friend brought up the project. I couldn’t take it any longer. I texted him, “You are a sucker. You are working and they are off playing.”

I was hot.

I was wrong.

We went home and that text haunted me. I don’t really have a filter. Things come into my mind and I speak them. It makes for some interesting social situations.

When I got home, I said to nobody in particular, I shouldn’t have sent that text. My buddy is already feeling bad and I made it worse. That’s not what friends do to each other.

My youngest asked me, “Dad why did you send it?”

I don’t know. I couldn’t see someone taking advantage of him. It bothered me a lot.

She was quiet for a moment.

“Dad do you remember when I was running and fell down?

Yes, I said, rubbing my head. Not my finest parenting moment. We went on a family walk. She was crab hopping down the road. I told her don’t do that you are going to fall.

Cherry blossoms carpeted the sidewalk. Fresh flowers perfumed the air. Thick and gorgeous white clouds flew overhead in the cerulean sky.

Bam. A loud sound like a head banging off of the sidewalk.

I turned around and saw my youngest had fallen on the sidewalk. I ran to her yelling, what are you doing? What are you thinking? She was crying and I made it worse. The sound was her hand, not her head. She had used her hand to absorb the blow, which had taken the skin completely off of her palm. But that was weeks ago.

Back at my house, my daughter staring up at me smiling, eyes slightly hooded. “Daaaaad, do you remember why you yelled?”

“Yes. Can’t stand the thought of anyone hurting you. Even yourself.”

“And all I did was cry more when you yelled at me.”

So there we were sitting at the breakfast nook. She’s staring at me. Her eyes impossibly large. She’s shaking her head up and down rapidly: one inch up, one down. Both eyes focused on me. Her mouth split wide in a maniacal grin.

I am not getting it.

“Dad. Don’t you think you did the same thing with the text? You yelled at him because he was hurting himself by doing all the work.”

“Ohhhhhh.”

“Dad you shouldn’t be so attached.”

With that she marched her 7-year-old body up the stairs and to bed. Now that is what Lao Tzu had in mind.

 

In the sudden silence of the room I started laughing.

 

So what has the world been telling you lately or for the last 20 years or so?