R.I.P. Rutger Hauer (1944 – 2019).

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My heart is saddened by the passing of the various musicians, poets, actors, and so on that have made our collective lives better through their work, e.g. Art Neville a couple of days ago. In this particular case today it is intensely personal and my heart is absolutely CRUSHED to hear that legendary Dutch actor Rutger Hauer has passed away. Rutger was an iconic sci fi actor, best known for his work in the classic sci fi movie “Blade Runner” (my favorite movie of all time). Hauer played synthetic human (“replicant”) Roy Batty, a violent criminal desperately seeking a way to extend his life (set at four years). Though Roy assaults and massacres his way through the various scientists that helped created him, he finally faces up tot he truth that nothing can be changed and he has mere hours to live. In pursuit of Roy is Rick Deckard (an equally brilliant Harrison Ford) a police assassin (“blade runner”) sent to hunt and kill Batty and his posse. By the end of the movie Deckard has killed everyone but Batty and in a final battle, Batty breaks a couple of Deckard’s fingers, but then suddenly decides to save Deckard from falling to his death, before giving a heartbreaking speech about the fleeting nature of existence and proceeding to die before Deckard’s very eyes.

Batty has been mercilessly torture-killing his way though the film and yet at the end he spares a single life, the man sent to kill him. Throughout the film director Ridley Scott has structured the dialogue, plot, and cinematography to suggest that Deckard himself may be a replicant, so Batty’s decision to save him suggests there is more to Batty’s mercy than meets the eye. Batty’s final speech, though extremely brief, is one of the great moments in sci fi cinema if not in all of cinema itself, and Hauer’s performance remains one of the most oft quoted in all science fiction. You have spent the entire film hoping to see Batty pay for his crimes by being killed by Deckard and yet at the end you see a small glimmer of “humanity” shine through as he slips away into eternal sleep, feeling sorrow and compassion for this being who was designed by his maker (the Tyrell Corporation) to be a violent military replicant and yet ends his lifespan saving a single life.(Note: it is an odd coincidence that Rutger Hauer and his character Roy both passed away in the year 2019…).

Both the movie and the breathtaking score by Greek composer Vangelis have had a HUGE impact on my life, and to lose Rutger Hauer, though inevitable, is still like a dagger in my soul. After (literally) hundreds of viewings over the last 32 years, Bladerunner, and Hauer’s performance are etched into my very being and I am extremely grateful to Mr. Hauer for decades of pleasure and poignant contemplation.

Godspeed, Rutger Hauer… to paraphrase your Bladerunner speech, you will NEVER be forgotten in time… like tears in the rain…

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R.I.P. Art Neville (1937 – 2019)

art neville.

Once again the world of music has lost yet another giant. New Orleans funk musician Art Neville, keyboardist of both The Meters and The Neville Brothers, has passed away at the age of 81. Even to call him a funk icon is barely enough, as Art was part of creating a genre and sound in funk music that will never be equaled though oft imitated.

His band The Meters put a certain kind of New Orleans style/manner of funk music on the map, as exemplified by their song “Cissy Strut”,” a twisty turning drumbeat accompanied by maximally soulful chord changes and melody.  Art was a giant of music, and his passing is yet another massive loss to the world, akin to the passing of artists such as Prince and Earth, Wind, and Fire lead vocalist Maurice White.

Rest in Peace, Art… and thank you VERY much for the super-funky music!

HAPPY CANADA DAY!

HELLO!

TODAY IS CANADA DAY HERE IN CANADA, CELEBRATING THE COMBINATION OF THREE COLONIES INTO ONE UNIFIED COUNTRY ON JULY 1ST, 1867. WE ARE CERTAINLY NOT AN OLD COUNTRY, BUT I LIKE TO THINK WE ARE A GOOD COUNTRY.

MY ANCESTORS CAME HERE OVER 100 YEARS AGO TO BUILD A BETTER LIFE FOR THEMSELVES, AND THANKS TO THEM I AM ABLE TO BUILD THE KIND OF LIFE FOR MYSELF I LOVE LIVING.

I HAVE BEEN EXTRAORDINARILY BLESSED TO HAVE ACCESS TO AMAZING OPPORTUNITIES AND CULTURE IN OUR SOUTHERN ALLY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA… (a truly great country, 99.999% of the time, when it is living up to its core principles…) BUT NOTHING FEELS BETTER THAN EXITING AN AIRPORT AND SEEING TORONTO, EDMONTON, OR CALGARY SPRAWLING OUT BEFORE OF ME.

SO ON THIS HOT SUNNY JULY 1ST CANADIAN DAY I JUST WANT TO SAY TO YOU ALL”HAPPY CANADA DAY” AND I HOPE YOU GET TO LIVE LIFE AS FINE AND WELL AS WE CANADIANS DO!

 

Encounters with Satanic Machines…

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Encounters With Satanic Machines

Pieces: a weekend of pieces. This is what I had the opportunity to experience recently on the occasion of my niece’s graduation from nursing school: her transition from long nights absorbing a virtual deluge of bodily facts all the way to engaging in the process of healing the body itself. As I myself have no significant understanding of medicine, this weekend was one of being the proud uncle on the sidelines, watching a once adorable, wobbling toddler now moving across the stage as a full fledged professional woman (who has achieved at a young age what it takes most a lifetime: scholarships, publishing, attending high level conferences, being inducted into an honor society position, etc.). An elite thinker/employee/nurse, she has now graduated from both a nurse’s “pinning” ceremony and official university program.

When a nurse is pinned, she is inducted into a special group, the clan of alumni nurses from that particular school, and the greater family of nurses: past, present, and future. My niece has a new extended family: every nurse you and I and she have ever met or have worn the mantle of nurse trained to heal, encourage, lift, clean, medicate, and so on, brothers and sisters united in taking in the sick and sending them out whole. You could say they are united in the process of protecting and nurturing Life in the particular area of expertise they are trained: the old, the young, cancer, extreme injuries, minor injuries, birth, and the passage from living to death. So one piece of the weekend was very proud uncle, another was seeing a great girl become a great woman. Yet another was seeing that woman move from civilian to professional Life preserver.

It is that aspect that made her graduation especially profound, her choice of a profession that fights to keep humans out of the ground. Watching her and her fellow nurses receive their official recognition as professional keepers of Life, I was reminded of my past experiences at the rifle range, having had the chance to engage in target practice with both a Mosin-Nagant rifle (the Finnish re-tooled sniper version from WW2) and an “Avtomat Kalashnikova” (Kalashnikov) assault rifle, the infamous AK47. Though the name may not sound familiar, if you have ever seen war movies such the “Rambo” series and their ilk, the AK47 is essentially the de rigeur machine gun for the bad guys (North Vietnamese, Soviets, South American drug dealers, etc.). It is not a very effective weapon at middle to long distances in semi-automatic (one trigger pull, one shot) or fully automatic (one trigger pull, multiple shots). But at close range the AK47 is a ferocious, violently loud, gun powder-smoke belching shredding machine, great for such things as jungle warfare. It is also designed to take a large amount of abuse and still fire: dragged through mud, buried in sand, underwater usage… the AK47 will still fire just fine immediately afterward, the perfect rifle for guerilla warfare and people who have to fight in bad conditions under extreme stress. Then there is the Finnish “fixed up” version of the Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle: a veritable cannon functioning as a rifle. The Soviet version was loud, unreliable, and designed as an instrument of evisceration: hit the front of its target and empty its inner contents out the back.

Firing the AK47 itself is a rather adrenalizing experience, but its impact on the soul of the user depends on one’s opinion of war and weapons of war. Personally, I thoroughly hate violence, guns, and martial concerns. I am a pacifist, and only ended up with the experience of shooting such weapons due to the ease of opportunity/anthropological curiosity. Firing both the AK and the Mos-Nag made me mildly sick to my stomach, thinking of the poor soldiers that had/have to shoot such weapons. How do they avoid PTSD from the sheer volume and significance of knowing a single bullet from either gun is large enough to cause immense damage and pain to its victim? The AK also produces an intense concussive effect in the air around it when firing in full automatic mode. It is like being slapped in the face 6 times a second. For people like me it shatters the soul, cracks it to pieces as it transforms its victims into pieces of meat, chunks of viscera formerly known as a human.

There is no nice way of saying it. There is nothing even remotely nice about what the Mosin-Nagant* and the AK47 does or stands for. The art of nursing and the art of designing and using the AK47 coexist in our Reality. Watching my nurse-niece walk across the stage and choose Life, to choose the opposite of an AK47 makes me proud. It also gives me greater respect for those who serve in the armed forces, who were/are willing to make that terrible but noble choice to wield weapons such as an assault or sniping rifle in order to stop other who made the same choice for ignoble, evil reasons.

As I sat watching both the pinning ceremony and official undergraduate graduation ceremony, I meditated on the duality of protecting Life and ending Life. Life begins, Life is sustained, Life ends; some value it, some care little for whom in Life occurs, and all stances in between. And in between the operating room and shooting range I stand, wondering at the expanse (“expense”?) of all things: watching in wonder at Life arriving and departing.

My contact with rifles, encounters with Satanic machines… it is deeply gratifying to know my niece stands on the side of existential Grace.

*The Mosin Nagant was the rifle of choice of both sniping legends (Soviet) Vasily Zaitsev and (Finnish) Simo Häyhä (the greatest sniper of all time). Both men were lethal, killing dozens and dozens of men, but it was Häyhä who sent more than 500 Soviets to their graves, via both Mosin Nagant or a machine/submachine gun. At his peak he was killing a minimum of 5 men a day, thanks to the Soviet military’s disarray and lack of winter camouflage.

 

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What is the “Zen Bed”?

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THE ZEN BED

Many, many years ago I had the opportunity to do research in a number of Buddhist temples in Western Japan and South Korea for my Master’s and PhD degrees. This meant sitting in silent meditation (Zen), chanting various scriptures aloud (Shingon), and so on. In the course of my research I was taught various mental techniques to clear the mind and sit for extended periods of time without developing any physical problems.

Unfortunately, this emphasis on the tradition of sitting has developed into its own kind of orthodoxy, with little focus given to the contemplative power of walking, or yogic practices such as Shavasana, the well known yoga pose of lying flat on your back with your eyes closed, completely still while being fully aware of (and detached from) your surroundings. But can there be a Zen Buddhist manner of walking? There already is, an activity called kinhin, wherein a meditator gets up and walks around in a meditative state during long periods of sitting meditation, in order to avoid joint injury and blood clots in the legs. Shavasana too is an established tradition in yoga, being physically easy to do but difficult to achieve its intended goal. What about some kind of Zen shavasana technique? One could argue that shavasana is already a Zen technique by its very nature. I will even go as far as to suggest that using a modified shavasana I call “Zen Bed” is a mentally, physically, and practically beneficial activity as a morning waking routine.

One could certain use Zen meditation techniques when laying down at night as a way of getting to sleep comfortably and relatively quickly, but using meditation/awareness techniques to efficiently and strategically wake up is another matter. So what is my Zen Bed concept? I combine meditation, awareness, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy techniques to “Zen” myself out of bed in the morning: relaxed, positive, and mentally sharp. So I suppose it is so much a mix of things as not to be particularly “Zen,” but I can’t think of a better term, or at least a less whimsical term! As I am not a morning person, I love going to sleep, and alternatingly not leaving my soft cozy bed in the morning. Being awak and running around is great, but it the miserable, agonizing transition from soft and sleepy to “awake” that night people hate about mornings. Who wants to leave the velvety caress of Lady Night to have an employee review with the Sun? Not me. But getting from sleep to action can be a deliberately positive process, rather than just trying to get up in the morning. The Zen part of the process involves clearing the mind, the shavasana part involves using your already relaxed body to increase your detachment from a desire to avoid the morning, to comfortably transition the body from bed to physical activity, and the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) techniques (emotional regulation) to activate and organize your ‘morning mind’ into a state that is conductive to positivity, not the negativity of resistance to the concept of waking up. This is the Zen Bed, the process of (a)waking up.

(NOTE: This isn’t a perfect, fix-all solution to any and all problems you may experience as part of the process of waking up, especially if you are injured, suffer from clinical depression, have chronic illness, etc. It is also not meant as medical, psychiatric, or psychotherapeutic advice and should not be taken as such, especially as a replacement for professional health services. It is merely something I do that helps me, and I am sharing this information with you.)

First, the Zen part. Soto Zen Buddhist meditation dictates that one clear their mind, that alone, with no goals, directions, or path on which one must follow. Known as shikantaza (“nothing else but sitting”), Soto Zen meditation is sitting still and just allowing thoughts to float by in one’s mind without trying to stop or analyze them. The point being to let them “run around” in your mind without trying to force them to stop or disappear. With enough sitting (not “practice”) the thoughts eventually stop floating by so fast and so often, and begin to decrease in speed and number. Thus, no one “practices” Soto Zen meditation, they just sit in a relaxed state with their eyes closed, as their thoughts float by in a manner that does not emotionally or mentally engage with one’s consciousness. Since waking up is easy and (99% of the time) relaxing, why not take advantage of this head start into a meditative state? You are beginning your day in a Soto Zen-like state, why not take it from there and just lay there just taking nice deep breaths, enjoying the state of relaxation. As your muscles will be relaxed, lay there and just let thoughts appear or not appear without trying to force them to be anything than what they are. For sure, this takes time, and for the first few weeks you will have the same kind of morning mind you have always had up until now. Beware anyone with a magic fix to your problems. There are no magic fixes, and these magic fix people always have some nonsensical book/pill to sell you. I am giving you Zen Bed for free. And it actually works, has been proven to work in my life, so that is at least one factual example. At least give Zen Bed a month of mornings and I guarantee you will see some kind of results. I’ll bet they will be positive. So Step One is: just wake up. Lay there for a few minutes just in your awakened state, soft and relaxed, and letting your thoughts float without resistance or judgement. This teaches your mind to not wake up and just start “running” around with the cares and concerns of the day. Learn to engage with the thoughts of the day when you consciously choose to.

Step Two is to remain relatively immobile in the shavasana position, lying on your back completely immobile while remaining aware of and detached from your surroundings. I find doing this works brilliantly as I move from the meditative to waking part of my Zen Bed routine. Once I have finished adjusting to being conscious in the morning via Zen meditation, I can now start being present in my actually body. Lay on your back with your arms by your sides, and your palms facing up, with the focus being on relaxing your entire body as much as possible. I also have modified this technique by adding the extra step of imagining your body is a giant river of hot butter running from the top of your head out of your hands and feet, as if your body was a tube through which the butter ran. You are aware of your empty body and the “butter,” and as the minutes slip by you feel better and better physically and emotionally. Thus, by the time you want to or must get out of bed, you ate not carrying physical stress out into the day.

The third and final step involves a cognitive and/or behavioral technique that activates your brain and gets you off on the right emotional foot. It is so common to wake on any particular morning and have your initial thoughts be worrying, negative, or outright pessimistic concerns about the activities of your day. This morning negativity can be regulated and changed into something more constructive. As someone who is absolutely not a morning person, my thoughts almost inevitably are negative in or about the morning. But rather than accept this as an unalterable fact, one can reprogram their thoughts to work for rather than against themselves. This is done through a simple and realistic exercise: for every negative thought, the goal is to think of three positive thoughts to counterbalance it. It is that simple. Not unrealistic, Pollyannaish thought, but three productive counterarguments against that morning negativity. For example, if you hate getting up because you have some kind of early morning activity you hate, then the goal is to lay in your bed before physically rising and think up three thoughts that replace the exclusively negative single thought that dominates your consciousness. No Canadian intrinsically likes shoveling snow, though we are so used to massive piles of it falling on and around us for months at a time. But rather than hate having to get up to shovel one’s driveway at 5 am in order to shovel 10 inches of snow off your driveway (in minus 20 Celsius weather) be able to get your car out of the garage, there must be three thoughts that can make the activity anywhere from tolerable to, dare I say, enjoyable. Though 10 inches of snow, minus 20 weather, and 5 am are a miserable combination, it is possible to enjoy getting out of bed to shovel if (1) later that morning you are leaving for a tropical vacation (2) driving your new Lamborghini to the airport, and (3) a massive amount of money in your bank account you won in the lottery paid for your car and vacation.

Though this is a rather fantastical example, it doesn’t take such extremes to find a positive morning engagement with the world and one’s daily activities. It just requires what positives one can find in a situation, even if they are not much more positive than negative. It is a morning behavior that just requires practice and a little imagination. It increases distress tolerance and one’s ability to manage their emotions, and not be ruled by them or ignore them completely, internalizing your morning stress. Shoveling snow at 5 am in minus 20 weather does not automatically appeal to me, until I create the emotional conditions in which it does. If I allow myself to shovel for five minutes then take a ten minute break inside, then it becomes at least emotionally manageable. If I also include shoveling my crippled neighbor’s driveway, it technically becomes more of what I don’t like, but in emotional terms a very satisfying and positive experience knowing that I can reduce emotional distress in someone else’s life. Counting up the various ways shoveling 5 am snow in minus 20 temperature is a great way to make me feel like jumping out of bed rather happily, rather than slowly dragging myself out of bed depressed.

I have found my Zen Bed process to be an enjoyable as well as productive way to wake up in the morning when I need to be active and efficient with my waking hours. On days off and holidays, just waking up and then going back to sleep is a great way to keep from becoming a “waking-up workaholic”, not becoming attached to making everything some kind of self-help goal and achievement. The Zen Bed is for making life (not your “spiritual resume”) better.

Why not try waking up this way tomorrow?