Thursday, May 29, 2008


This week, I’ve spent a lot of time by the ocean. Tonight I went to an amazing presentation by an artist named Bryant Austin at the Hopkins Marine Laboratory in Monterey. Bryant spent months in the Kingdom of Tonga (in the middle of the Pacific Ocean) swimming with humpback whales and photographing them.

Bryant allows the whales to approach him on their own terms, creating a sense of intimacy and physical closeness that is very rare between humans and whales. He takes dozens of high resolution close-up photos so that he can create life-size composite pictures of these majestic creatures. His vision is to share these photos with people all over the world, particularly in places where whale hunting still happens. As he puts it, the goal is “to provide the viewer with an awareness that will give them reason to care.”

The results are pretty astonishing. The prints Bryant shared with us were small versions of the life-size 9 x 25-foot projections he shows. Even so, to glimpse the gentle eye of a whale staring directly at you is an incredible experience. Bryant is headed to Santiago, Chile, in a couple of weeks to show the full-size versions to the International Whaling Commission. Wow.

On Wednesday, I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I love that place so much that I joined as a member a few weeks ago – so now I can just drop in for an hour in the afternoon anytime I feel like it to hang out with the sea otters and the other ocean critters! The photo for this post is one of the otters catching some rays in her blue bucket. Nice life.

A couple of months ago on an aquarium visit, my sweetie Gina and I developed a great affection for the octopus… a shy and very intelligent creature who usually hides in the rocks of her exhibit, but on that day was very lively and moving in a beautifully poetic way across the water, almost like a ballet.

Yesterday, the octopus was also moving around quite a bit. An older woman and her husband were watching the octopus, and the woman jumped back a bit as the octopus started to move its tentacles, and she exclaimed, “That’s disgusting!” I was struck by how different our perceptions can be. Gina and I were enthralled by what we saw as the octopus’ beauty and grace, and we could have watched her for hours. This woman’s reaction was extremely different. A perfect case study in how our perceptions shape our ‘reality.’ I am grateful to have perceived the beauty of the octopus, but I could have just as easily had the same 'disgusted!' reaction as that other woman.

just wondering....have you had experiences like that, where you realized that you could flip around your perception of something in a heartbeat, either for the positive or negative... and what was that like for you?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day Peace Gathering, Santa Cruz

On Monday, I drove up to Santa Cruz at the invitation of Annie Kelley, a Buddhist Peace Fellowship friend who I first met in Washington DC in 2005. The Santa Cruz BPF chapter organized this event. It was a beautiful morning.

We gathered at Mission Plaza in Santa Cruz, and then walked through downtown and along the river, in silence. Our intention was to hold the memories of all who have died in the Iraq war, on all sides, in reverence. As we walked past the sidewalk cafes and stores on Pacific Street, it was amazing to feel how the energy transformed and other people fell silent too.

We ended up back at the plaza and formed a large circle, then some of the BPF members unrolled a huge scroll that they've kept for the past few years -- one of the members did some research to find the names of some of the Iraqi citizens who have been killed, and has kept adding names to this scroll over the years. It spanned the whole length of our circle of about 150 people.

I was invited to read some of the names of U.S. soldiers from the Santa Cruz/San Jose region who have been killed, along with Katherine Thanas, the abbot of the Santa Cruz Zen Center.

So, another Memorial Day passes... so sad to reflect on the loss of life as a result of this war.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Driving Up California's Central Coast

Yesterday I drove back from Pasadena to Monterey, an all-day drive that had all kinds of treasures along the way. I love the landscape along Hwy 101 past San Luis Obispo and through the Salinas Valley… it’s easy to understand John Steinbeck’s inspiration for his writings. The weather was complex and gorgeous all day – sun interspersed with clouds and rain, creating a beautiful play of light on the hillsides. In a daring act (probably not a wise one), I held my camera up to the windshield as I was driving to catch a few shots… one of the better ones is posted above. I don’t advise trying this… truckdrivers will give you dirty looks!

I also saw some wildlife... on a stop at Morro Bay I found a sanctuary for nesting birds, and watched as majestic white herons and cormorants flew over me towards their babies. The sound was amazing—all kinds of peeps and cries and other bird sounds. They are protected on this spit of land, and there were hundreds of birds nesting and flying towards their nests. Got some photos of that too -- including the heron landing in her nest, above.

And finally, at a rest stop along 101, I was just hanging out by a fence that protected land that sloped down toward a creek. I heard a rustling sound and stayed very quiet as a bobcat made its way out from under some brush and walked along the fence no more than 6 feet from me. I was going to take a photo, but the movement to get the camera out of my pocket caught his (her?) attention and he gave me a growl that convinced me to just stay still… even with a fence between us, he looked pretty fierce. So – no photo of mr. bobcat, you’ll just have to imagine that one!

What a day!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How to be rich without having a lot of money

This morning, I am writing from the big, bustling Whole Foods market in Pasadena, where I'm spending the next week with my mom while my dad travels to Canton, Ohio, to visit his older sister.

It's hot here... feels like it's been hot everywhere in California. Drove from Monterey down to here yesterday on Hwy 101... and the temperature felt like it matched the highway number for most of the day. But there were some blissful breaks when the highway bent toward the ocean. I stopped in Morro Bay (one of my favorite California coastal towns) for a great lunch of halibut tacos and 1 absolutely brilliant barbecued oyster at the Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant (don't let the cheezy mermaid scare you away from this great place!). Ate outside on a dock and watched the fishing boats coming back in from the ocean.

One realization I've had over the last week of this sabbatical is that I am rich -- rich in time. So often I've defined 'rich' by the amount of money I have in the bank (which is never much), and too often I've carried around a 'mind of poverty' (from the Zen Peacemaker Order's precepts -- see #8). But this week, it hit me that time is incredibly valuable... and now I'm rolling in it. This week I had enough time to make a scrumptious dinner of risotto (first time I've ever made it!) and chicken and bok choy for my friend Kristi and me, enough time to take a leisurely drive to Southern California, and enough time to give my parents a hand when they need it. It's so good to feel rich.

Since gold and yellow are good colors for richness, I'm posting a photo shot this past week... some more beautiful Monterey flowers, nasturtiums this time.

May you find the richness in your life as does it show up for you?

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to help earthquake victims in China

Bodhisattva Alert:
The Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist relief organization that does amazing work worldwide, is focusing its compassion and good energy to China right now. Tzu Chi members will be heading into the streets to collect money and good wishes to start a fund for long term recovery efforts... you can donate online too. Be a bodhisattva and give 'em a hand.

The Voluntary Simplicity Movement

Seems that I have company in my quest to simplify life and distill what's important. Good article in today's NYT about a number of families who are doing the same thing. According to the article, we owe some debt to the hippies of the '60s. No doubt... and in a strange way we also owe a debt to the current and coming energy crisis which is forcing us to re-think our priorities and how we live our lives. Maybe we even have George Bush to thank for all this. Feels like we are riding on a tidal wave of change these days, and change is what we make of it. Crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, right?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Somewhere on a beautiful walk through Pt. Lobos park yesterday, just south of Monterey and along the Pacific Ocean, I had this idea that I should keep a blog about these next months of my life, which I am intending as sabbatical time. This feels like a precious time, a time to dive deep and pull up some jewels from the muck, a time to lay the foundation for the second half of my life.

I realized that I’ve been working hard at full time jobs over the past seven years (motivated to pay off big credit card and student loan debt). So the timing was really perfect for this sabbatical. I can feel in my bones the wisdom of taking the seventh year as a time of rest and reflection.

The photo above, by the way, is what I see when I look out the bedroom window of the house where I'm staying in Monterey. I'm here through the generosity of my friend Kristi who's offered me a temporary home base for the next month. What a beautiful place to start this sabbatical!

Recently it's occurred to me that I’m taking this time not just for me, but for all beings (that’s the we way talk in Buddhism), and that I am practicing more open space and time for my friends, and friends-yet-to-be-met, who are still mired in the world of busy-ness which only very recently I have been able to step out of.

So, this blog’s for you. For anyone who’s ever wished to be able to step off the wheel of life for just a while, not so much as an escape, but as a way to find what truly has heart and meaning in our lives. I invite you along for the ride… I’m looking forward to sharing big insights and mundane observations with you on this blog.

I'm curious -- have you taken sabbatical time in your lives? If so, what came out of it for you? Leave some comments... I'd love to see this blog be more of a conversation!