11-21-11: Throughout my life thus far, I have had a few moments where I was so happy--my heart so full, that if I were to die the very next second....I would die totally happy and satisfied. All of those instances have been.... with my daughter....watching her at tipping points in life. I am talking about a place beyond me being happy with, or proud of Malindi--I am talking about something much, much more profound....
In 1979 I was on a climbing expedition on the north face of Mt. Kenya. Malindi had been born just seven months before. That expedition was for me, the most life-changing experience I had and have ever had. During a nightmarish epic, I was beset by both high altitude cerebral and pulmonary edema. I died, drowning in my own blood. I was dead for some ten minutes. And then....I dreamed my way....back....alive.
After a tenuous hospitalization in a mission hospital in Nyere, I came back home to my wife and infant daughter. To this day, the psychological trauma I experienced prior to my death experience is, for me, impossible to communicate with words. Suffice it to say that I added to the equity of my PTSD earned previously from the darkness and horrors of Uganda and Kenya.
The first night after I returned home from the '79 expedition, Cindy, Malindi and I lay on our bed in an embrace. In that moment, and after so much trauma, soul-killing challenge and pain, I had finally found a soft place full of comfort. As my infant daughter nursed, she looked at me, smiled and closed her eyes. At that moment, I was delivered from death by the touch and smile of my daughter.
When Malindi was an 8th grader, I took her and her best friend, Betsy, climbing in Colorado. We were going to do a rather difficult and technical route on Longs Peak, and planned on spending a couple of days acclimatizing--doing short rock climbs before packing into Longs. Malindi ate a bad burrito in Fort Collins where we were staying with my friend, Scott. When we got up that first morning--planning to go rock climbing--Malindi had been worshipping the porcelain god all night. Weak and sick as a dog, Malindi rode with us to the crags.
Frankly, I didn't think she would be able to do anything, much less climb. But I'll be go-to-hell if she didn't get out of the car and hiked with us to the base of some rock walls. I led a nice route up one wall and set up a belay point on a huge terrace about 100 feet off the deck. From the terrace we could safely scramble back down to the base of the climb without using a rope. Tim climbed the pitch. Then Betsy. Looking down over the edge, I shouted, "Do you want to try it Malindi?" Pride welled up in me as Malindi put on her helmet, and methodically tied into the rope. She looked up at me 100 feet above her. I shouted, "BELAY ON!" and waited for her to respond with the appropriate signal of, "CLIMBING!" But she was silent....just looking up at me with a sick look on her face. Then, she did something I did not expect....
She untied herself from the climbing rope, walked about ten feet to the side of the rock wall and puked her guts out. Then, she wiped her mouth, walked back over and tied into the rope and shouted, "CLIMBING!" Stunned, I responded, "CLIMB AWAY!" Then, resolute and stoic, that little girl--my daughter-- climbed up the rock wall with focus and grace.
At that moment, my heart was full. I was totally fulfilled at seeing how extremely tough my daughter was. You cannot teach that kind of toughness. It is a mental toughness that few people are ever called on to test in their lives. If I had died at that moment, I would have died happy and totally content, knowing what I then knew about my daughter.
Earlier this month my 32 year-old daughter had gone to Thailand for an adventure. When she was showing her mother and I photos from her trip, I found myself looking at Malindi on a remote jungle river in a small assault raft, helmet and flack-jacket BC on with a paddle digging deep into a Class V rapids. She remarked, "That was a hell of a drop, dad." I told her, "Malindi, that is not a drop....it's a goddamn waterfall."
And so it was. I could not believe that she had done such a trip what with the flooding in Thailand, and dangerous flow of the Siam River. If it were in America, the river would have been shut down as being too dangerous. But in Thailand, the Class IV, V and VI rapids....were runnable....though just barely.
Then she showed us photos from the Golden Triangle north of Chiang Rai--photos of her riding through the jungles, bareback on an elephant. There were so many photos of Malindi, learning to be a Mahout--with her elephant in the jungles of Thailand. One of the best photos showed her elephant laying in the river with Malindi standing on top of its ribs, washing it after the day's journey through the jungle. Even in the photo I could see that light in her eyes. She was living a reality that few even dream of. She was....really living her life.
So, again just last week....if I were to have died the next moment, I would have died totally happy and completely fulfilled by....my daughter.
10-14-11: Recently I became aware that I'm a member of a unique group of people who have in common a special place where we lived during a special time, doing things that few people would ever do. And this group of people have found fit to honor old memories and those times that were so different than today.
In 1976 I spent a large part of the Summer and Fall climbing in the Alps of Europe. My occasional source of income was guiding and teaching would-be adventurers how to climb. I worked with Dougal Haston and Alex MacIntyre--two Scottish climbers who operated the International School of Mountaineering (ISM) headquartered in Switzerland. Base camp for ISM was the CLUB VAGABOND in Leysin.
Leysin was also the site of the American School and University that was attended by the sons and daughters of U.S. diplomats. While working for ISM in Leysin, I stayed at the Club Vagabond -- more commonly referred to as, "The Vag." Club Vagabond catered to English-speaking guests, and even employed many British Commonwealth and some American expats as workers. Of course, the expats were drawn to the Alps around Leysin--with its skiing and perhaps even more so, its....climbing.
When not doing a bivouac on a mountain wall, I slept on the top rack of a bunk bed in a room at the Vag that slept four--usually climbing clients or young Brits off on a wander. The Vag was full of expats and English-speaking climbers who were lured to the alpine rock and ice routes of the Alps. The Vag also drew English-speaking females who were attracted to these intrepid wild men with their Bohemian, expat lifestyle.
Drug usage was pretty matter of fact at the Vag, as was the heavy drinking. Perhaps the alcohol and drugs were used to soothe nerves frayed from deadly and desperate epics played out on towering rock walls and icy summits.
Though I didn't realize it at the time, the Vag was to become a folk legend--a sacred ground for a special time and its special people. Everyone knew the Vag was THE place to be if you were a climber in the Alps during the 70's. But none of us were even thinking about the legacy we'd leave. At the time, it was simply....the way we lived.
Alex MacIntyre was my partner at ISM in Leysin. He was an amazingly skilled climber who had no fear whatsoever....other than to be without bitters and a big-busted woman. At the time, Scotland was known to produce the best ice climbers in the world. If you were a Scotsman, you had the genetic imperative to also be a great ice climber. Alex was a Scotsman, and he was a wizard on the seracs and ice walls of the Alps. Also, he was the most dangerous person I had ever climbed with in my life.
- Alex MacIntyre -
Alex would take long leads on vertical ice and rock, and place no protection--no pitons, stoppers or ice screws. If he were to fall, he would have almost certainly sent both of us plummeting to our deaths. When I lead the pitch, I would place as much protection as I could, as Alex cajoled me: "Very cautious you Yanks!" Of course, Alex could lead a pitch much quicker than I, since he took no time to place protection. And he would always justify his dangerous climbing style by telling me, "Speed is safety on these big hills, my friend."
From my belay point: Alex MacIntyre on the North Face of the
Before climbing trips--either with or without clients, Alex and I would stuff ourselves full of fresh bread, butter and strawberry jam. Then, we'd swill down a gallon of cafe au lait--the breakfast served to us free-of-charge by the pretty girls who worked at the Vag. On every day climb we would pack a lunch of crusty bread and a big Toberlone white-chocolate bar. Alex introduced me to white chocolate on those climbs thirty-five years ago. Alex and I climbed some incredible routes all over Switzerland, and also in France and Italy.
Dougal Haston, however, was the climbing kingpin in Leysin, and held court at the Vag during that Summer and Fall of 1976. When not in the bar, or in bed with a pretty bird, he was climbing. He had to his credit, numerous first ascents in the Alps....and also in the Himalaya. Once that Summer, Dougal, Alex and I agreed to do a journeyman's route on the classic Eiger North Face. I remember the day that we were to leave for Kleine Scheidegg to stage for the climb. That morning I was not able to find Alex. I had seen him the night before with a buxom Australian gal at the bar of the Vag. I went to Dougal's room and found him in bed with a pretty young thing. It appeared to me at that time that women were complicating our climb. Dougal propped himself on his elbow, and freed himself from the embrace of the sleeping woman. Not at all embarrassed, he told me that he and Alex would meet me at the campground outside of Kleine Scheidegg later that day. Then, he rolled over and snuggled back down into the sleeping bag with the woman. I shut the door and went to the train station.
Kleine Scheidegg--Eiger North Face In Background
That evening I sat on the ground by my tent pitched in the campground at the base of the Eiger. Alex and Dougal, both still mildly hung over, strolled up the path and dropped their packs on the ground. Alex asked how much it cost to camp. It was something like $10 US. They thought that was too much and went to bivouac in the Kleine Scheidegg train depot.
We spent our entire climb of the Eiger in the clouds. We made the summit without major incident, and I was initiated as an Eiger North Face climber. On our way down, a Foehn moved in and coated the Eiger with verglasse. An alpine rescue team pressed us into assisting a recovery, and we helped lug the bodies of two dead climbers to a place where a helicopter could later retrieve them.
The recovery operation put somewhat of a damper on our successful climb, so we retreated to the spiritual comfort of....the Vagabond. At the bar we were smug in our response to those who asked us what climb we had just come off of.... "Eiger....yeah....North Face....Bagged 'er no problems." Soon, the corpses on the mountain were long forgotten.
The women hung on us, and the men wanted to be us. Alex stood me a drink that night--a rare thing for the Scotsman. In his toast he claimed that I had the longest reach of any climber in the Alps. I had been able to reach a bucket hold and make a move that had turned back both Alex and Dougal.
Alex died a few years after he stood me drinks at the Vag. He was swept off the South face of Annapurna in the Himalayas. Shortly thereafter, Dougal was lost in an avalanche.
Though we didn't know it then, we were the very stuff of legends--legends that would be shared among young climbers and travelers decades later. Yosemite had its legends of Camp 4 in the 50's and 60's. In the 70's, the Alps had....Club Vagabond.
Just this past September, 160 old Vagabond expats met in Leysin to celebrate the 50th birthday of Club Vagabond. Someone even uploaded a web site that touted the legends of the Vag, and announced the upcoming birthday party. I wished I had known. Perhaps I would have gone.
The Vag closed some years ago. Later, it was demolished. Now, there is no longer a Club Vagabond, nor are there any of those unique people who had found their way to a magical place in time. Today they are only a memory and an old man's story.
7-19-11: I love that feeling of not having any touchstones, familiarity or understandings of the reality you have been thrust into--not having a damn clue as to what is going on or what will happen next. For me it is embracing the adventure that we call life, and having the spirit, and the needful emptiness to just let it all ride and enjoy it, or at least, try to survive it. In my international expeditionary years, we had a name for it: WEIRD SHIT PER MILE INDEX or the WSPM.
Watching untouchable monks eat partially-cremated, human body parts that floated down-river from Varanasi registered pretty high on the WSPM Index. One doesn't see that every day. Watching throngs of chanting Maasai warriors dance themselves into frothing, fits of delirium tremors at an Eunoto held outside of Narok received high scores, as well.
And I remember the first time I was on Mt. Kenya. The first night on the mountain, I ran into a shaman strangling a goat as a sacrifice to the god N'gai who is said to live on the summit of the mountain. He wore the skins of Colobus monkeys, and his hair was a matted Medusa of dreadlocks. After strangling the goat he removed its eyeballs with a sharp knife and placed each bloody orb on ki-apple thorns which made up his altar. He cut open the animal's belly and removed its tripe, draining its blood into a bowl and placing the heart, liver and stomach onto a large green leaf. The shaman then partook of the bloody sacrament. I watched from the bower of a moss-covered camphor tree. With blood running down his chin, he placed the bowl down and pinched off a piece of the goat's liver. It was then that he turned around and looked right into me. I did not know what I should do. I watched him watch me and slowly retreated into a stand of bamboo. I had never seen anything like that in my twenty-two years of life.
My life has been blessed by incidents that have been simply outside of all normalcy as held by we digitized and civilized westerners. When I have been part of such an experience, my mind sorted for a lock onto....normalcy. And when I failed to find such normalcy, well, that is when life really began to get interesting to me.
During the week of July 11th, I was initiated into the Kalachakra Tantra by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. I took part in a week-long ceremony that many times challenged my notion of....reality. The Kalachakra Tantra is the only Tantric practice exposed to non-Tibetan Buddhists. It is considered a high Tantric practice, and includes days of ritual, guided meditation and cultivating an altruistic mind, body and voice. It is a complicated mix of 722 deities, their consorts, metaphorical kingdoms, secret vows and words, purification with water and sacred nectar, blindfolds, petals cast onto a sand Mandala in search of our patron Buddha, placing stalks of grass under our bedding to analyze our dreams....finding myself able to chant sanskrit mantras that I had never heard before.... In essence, for me the experience had a wonderfully high WSPM Index.
At the very bedrock of the initiation and practice is the Kallachakra Mandala.
The Kalachakra Mandala represents the Kingdom of hundreds of deities and thousands of sacred symbols. The Kalachakra Mandala was constructed in the Washington D.C. Verizon Center by the senior monks and Lamas of the exiled Dalai Lama's Namgyel Monastery in India. The initiation into this Tantric practice required us to gain a state of empty mind through meditation, enter the Mandala and meet its deities, and finally, become its deities. Through chanting and meditative techniques, we manifested both the male and female energies within our god body, and channeled them through our Chakra in order to realize a merger of our mind, body and voice.
Incense hung in the air....the stage was a cacophany of Buddhist idolotry.... cymbals clanged, and horns sounded while drums roared.... a chorus of gutteral chanting vibrated the air with its unearthly sound.... I have never experienced anything like that in my life. And I relished the wonderment of being in a reality beyond anything familiar....anything....normal.
6-9-11: It has been quite a journey of the spirit, these past months. The pall of my father's illness and inability draped itself and hung on every day like an unclean thing. Every day I knew that I would have to cut myself--walk barefoot across broken glass as I watched my father decay into a pitiful shell.
Every day....it was like knowing you were going to be kicked in the groin over and over again....every day. Every day....I drove home, alone--through tears and hurt. Every day. Every day I would wake up with sadness on my heels. Every day the blessedness of living was tarnished.... ruined, flawed. Every day, the skies were full of clouds. Every day, the sun never really shined like it had before. Every day, nothing was easy.
And early on every day I wheeled my mother into that room and watched as they both shared a cruel dismay and confusion as to how it had come to this. Finally, neither he nor she wanted to share that pain. Thankfully, those conjugal visits faded. The pain was just too much.
But I knew that I could not leave my father alone. So, I kept going back into that room. Every day.
And every day, I knew what was expected of me.... I was to exert my will and....persevere. And despite how bad it was going to get, I was to share the last days, weeks and months of his life as a son that never looked away, never quit coming back into that room, and never lost his will....nor his humor. I was the son that would never blink in the face of death. And I was expected to be there and watch this dance with death....and maintain a sense of grace...and humor.
And in the wake of all that pain and darkness, the last two days of my father's life offered to me some of the most spiritually powerful experiences I have ever known....
Two days prior to his death, he lay there in his bed and I leaned over him. I called to him, and his eyes, now soft and resigned, looked at me with kindness. I told him how he had no need to ever worry about anything ever again. How we had things under control, and that we would take care of Mom and how everything was going to be okay....everything was taken care of in this life. How he should just relax and enjoy this, his next adventure. How he would really like it.
Then, I said to him, "I love you Dad."
He smiled and looked at me, and for the first time in my life I heard him say to me, "I love you, too."
We gently fist bumped and he closed his eyes to sleep. I left him to his sleep, considering this to be a good "last meeting" if it came to that. I drove home, extremely light, peaceful and strangely.... happy.
As it came out, there was one more day before dad slipped away from us, and I was blessed to see him say his goodbyes to mom. She kissed him on the lips and said she loved him. Without his normal, German-Russian hardness, he said that he loved her, too. Mom was wheeled from the room and Dad and I were left alone.
I commanded Dad's attention one last time. I talked with him about death, and how to relax, and how to let it enter peacefully. In that late afternoon, I told my father what I knew of death and of dying. I told him about the peace he would find. The calm and how unbelievably good he would feel. I told him everything I knew of it from my own death on Mt. Kenya back in 1978. I left nothing out. He lay there smiling. I kissed his forehead. Told him I loved him and found his fist to bump one final time--for I knew this would be the last. He was smiling as he slept.
The next day my brother and I were called by the nursing home and told that Dad was slipping away. I drove over, and once again, I went into that room. He lay there unconscious. The morphine had been increased in dose and he was in that spiritual glide pattern away from all this. I sat there in that dark room with my head in my hands. My brother came in and we both sat at the foot of Dad's bed. Dad started to exhibit Chain-Stokes breathing--where he would basically quit breathing--and then resume. At one point, since he seemed to have quit breathing for some time, I checked for a pulse. It was incredibly weak and irregular.
At our request, they increased the morphine dose and frequency up to the legal limits. We watched him sleep. I caressed and kissed his head. We said our final goodbyes and left him with his dignity. Dad comfortably slipped away in his sleep later that night.
When I woke the next morning I realized that for the first time in months, I would not need to go into that room.
5-16-11: Dad peacefully died in his sleep this morning at 2:00AM. Shortly thereafter, overheard in a conversation with God:
"Don, you did real good.
Take a break."
5-9-11: For the last couple of months, I have been tying up significant energy in dealing with the declining health and eminent death of my father....
Over the past month and change dad has been in and out of hospital emergency rooms, Intensive Care Units, and is now going through the final stages of his life in a nursing-home room. It is not as either he or I would have wanted it. It is too degrading for such a man as my father, and it is too soft and too weak of a way to go for a hard man so tough he ate cement for breakfast. But apparently neither he nor I have much to say about it.
It is a difficult thing that allows little relief or diversion. This afternoon his physician and I were plotting how to avoid the bureaucratic machinations of Medicare and Hospice and lovingly hasten my father's death.... Hippocratic oaths be damned.
We're all too tired to do this anymore. Too tired of holding his urinal, and robbing him of his dignity as he pisses on his son's hands. Too tired of holding him down as he gasps for air--flopping on a gurney like a goddamn carp flopping on the river bank--threatening to pull out the tubes and wires. Too tired. We've taken too much from him already.
Pull the plug; Clock him out; Let him go; Punch out; Croak; Dirt nap....all darkly humorous phrases we use in our day-to-day instead of the word that everyone fears to say out loud or otherwise. Die. The D-word. The word nearly everyone fears to even think. Die. Father. Self. We dare not think it let alone say it.
The nurses show me charts, as their eyes try to give me charade clues as to what word they want to say....but can't. Doctors have that same look in their eyes when they run past the word with their medical jargon. God knows they have seen enough of it to call it by name. Even the Funeral Home director won't say it, and favors the word, pass. Pass.
"How much time have they told you until your father.... passes?"
Pass--said in that quiet, dignified, whispery-quiet way. And they say that mealy-mouth word generally without looking at you for fear that you know they really mean....die.
My Dad's already passed everything required of him--passed every test, every muster, every task. Passed 'em with flying colors. He ain't gotta pass anything. He just wants to....die. Wants to be done with it. Done enough in his 87 years. Wants to "die" and sure as hell wouldn't want to meekly....pass.
Just this morning the nurses called and said they wanted me to come out and calm him down and talk him into taking his medicine to remove fluids from his lungs. When I walked into his room, he lay there like a Holocaust victim in bed. He told me that we were dumb asses for not letting him die--that he was the only one in the whole damn family that was thinking straight and knew what the hell was going on. Maybe he is right. Maybe we just think he's the one who is delusional and that we are clear thinking. Maybe he is right.
3-27-11: Sometimes it is the most fragile and diminutive people who make a massive difference in the world. Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Sister Theresa.... Perhaps it is these small and quiet people, who, because of the contrast between their physical and spiritual stature, make such an impact on our lives. Last week I enjoyed being in the presence of one of these such small and quiet people: Dr. Jane Goodall.
Fifty years ago, a young, under-educated, and soft-spoken English woman came to Dr. Louis Leakey and talked about her love of animals, and her curiosity of all things living. Louis Leakey, the grand patriarch of physical anthropology and African paleontology, saw something very special in this elfin woman....who loved animals. After a relatively brief meeting together, this small, soft-spoken, girl was given a job of studying chimpanzees in the wilds of the Gombe Reserve of what was then Tanganyika, East Africa. There in the forest reserve, in a remote tented camp with no amenities, she was tasked with making world-changing discoveries. And that is what she did.
But it is not her ethological discoveries, as remarkable as they were, that most....changed the world. In the late 1980's, Goodall had an epiphany while flying over the Gombe Reserve. For the first time, she realized that the forests all around Gombe had disappeared. Her precious research site was by then, only a small island of the wild amidst a sea of human order and agriculture. At that point, Goodall became a tireless, environmental advocate and activist.
It was at this life's turning point that she created and began to develop what eventually would became a worldwide force of education for and about the conservation and preservation of worldwide wildness. The program was and is called....
Roots & Shoots....a small, almost silly name that seems better fit to be in a children's picture book than front and center on a global stage. Roots & Shoots....a name without large claims. Small? Quiet? Perhaps even....a bit silly?
Here is the inspiration for the name Roots & Shoots by its founder:
Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine that the brick walls are all the problems we have inflicted on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of roots & shoots, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. We CAN change the world.
- Dr. Jane
The audacity of such a statement: WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
But so it has. Now, with active programs in 120 countries-- each with literally thousands of young members--Roots & Shoots has literally.... changed the world.
And its mission has transcended only wildlife and wild places, it has encompassed the grandest dream of all....world peace.
Last week I was in the presence of a kind old woman who had the vision of an enthusiastic young girl unafraid to dream. And this small, soft-spoken old woman had not talked about things--she had DONE things to....change the world.
Despite I was twice her size, I felt so small beside this woman.
2-21-11: I have often mused that we humans are collectively a God that has forgotten Its divinity, being lost in its own creative dream. I had reason to meditate on this concept of human sanctity last Friday night....after watching the NASCAR Truck race.
After the race I wandered into my den-turned-museum and fired up my computer. As the laptop booted up I studied the room and its many relics of old adventures and older magic. I logged onto my email and the message from my Venerable Lama friend from the Deer Park Buddhist Monastery seemed to be shining like a jewel. I read the email message twice and then, just sat there stunned....
It was like I stood beside a vast, deep and silent sea--waiting to jump in. I studied the email message for what it was: a life-changing event. I was invited as a special guest to be initiated into the Kalachakra Tantra by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. From July 6-16 in Washington DC, His Holiness and senior monks from the Namgyl Monastery in India would be constructing the Kalachakra sand Mandala, and initiating Buddhists and even non-Buddhists into the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism's highest Tantric practice: The Kalachakra Tantra. Deep within myself something....shifted.
I clicked on the link that gave me an overview of the event. From a spiritual standpoint, this was fish-or-cut-bait time....
The Kalachakra Tantra is the only Tibetan Tantric practice that is made available to people who are not Buddhist monks, nuns or priests. Initiation into the Kalachakra Tantra empowers a person to perform the tantric practices conveyed by the Tantra Master. The initiation is preceded by nearly a week of preparation, ceremony and teachings. The initiation itself lasts three days and includes the transformation of one's Mind, Body and Voice. The Kalachakra Tantra initiation requires that you become a deity--that is, you become ONE with the Kalachakra Buddha.
With the guidance of the Tantra Master, in this case the Dalai Lama, we will become deities, and enter Kalachakra's huge palace (the mandala), where we will meet and become one with 772 Buddhas, and negotiate the five levels of the palace.
Each of the five levels of the Kalachakra palace/mandala is made up of five smaller but powerful mandalas....
The Body Mandala
The Speech Mandala
The Mind Mandala
The Wisdom Mandala
The Great Bliss Mandala
Transforming ourselves into a deity, our journey through the mandala will end with our having found....the great bliss.
Many Buddhist monks will travel from all over the world to seek the Kalachakra initiation performed by His Holiness.
Before I am able to participate in the Kalachakra Initiation and Empowerment, I must first take both the Tibetan Buddhist Bodhisaatva Vows and the Tantric Vows. These will be given to me by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I have studied both sets of vows and am seeing how this truly could become a life-changing event. While the vows pose no real conflict with my personal theology and seem to be largely in sync with my spiritual path, they are not small, nor are they inconsequential things....
Fish or cut bait. Fish or cut bait. Fish or cut bait.
1-18-11: I maneuvered my truck in and out of the rush-hour traffic that skated over the icy throughway that skirted downtown Omaha. My passenger silently sat next to me, his bearded, brown face impassive as the Gypsy Song Man, Jerry Jeff Walker, sang his outlaw country tunes. He sat there--an enigma--with his floor-length hair, uncut for twenty years, heaped on top of his head--it nearly touching the cab's headliner as my iPod played in the truck. His red and saffron colored robes were bound to him by his monk's bag which I heard him unzip in the darkness. He carefully fished through the contents of his bag and produced a wooden prayer wheel. As the traffic increased so did the aggressiveness of the commuters escaping to their suburban homes. Protectively, my passenger spun his prayer wheel faster and faster -- sending heavenward thousands of prayers and sutras. We drove on in the dark without saying a word, listening to Mister Bojangles, LA Freeways and Desperados.
I glanced over at my passenger as he was illuminated by the headlights of an oncoming semi. He had closed his eyes, but had continued to spin his prayer wheel. Clearly, he was in meditation. Sometime later his prayer wheel stopped and the man's body slumped forward, head bowed. Having dozed for several minutes, his awakening was evidenced only by his renewed spinning of the prayer wheel as he gracefully raised his head to again re-enter his meditation. He did this several more times before we arrived in Lincoln.
The Venerable Drupon Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche Lama always knew he would become a Buddhist Monk in this life. Born and raised in Tibet, he entered the monastery and took his monastic vows at the age of seventeen. Very early into his study he grasped the opportunity to go into a solitary retreat where there was only his puja--his ceremony, meditation and spiritual practice. Ever since that first retreat -- its six months of solitary worship and meditation--Rinchen Dorjee has pursued a solitary path toward Buddhahood. After having spent nearly ten years alone in Buddhist practice and meditation, the title of Drupon--Retreat Master--was conveyed on Rinchen. In 2007 he was asked to come to America and accepted the responsibility of a Guru and senior spiritual teacher--a Rinpoche and Lama.
I first met Rinchen Dorjee Lama in 2010 when Dr. Yaroslav "Slava" Komarovski, my Daitoryu student, and Eastern Religion professor at UNL, brought him to Lincoln to address his classes. I persuaded Rinchen to come onto the KZUM Radio program I co-host: MIND-BODY-SPIRIT RADIO. He came to the studio, and through Slava's translation, we had an incredible show.
Now, and after a year, I had personally summoned the Lama. Why? I truly do not know the whole of it yet, but I did inherently know that the blessings of his presence would help a number of others here to walk the path of their heart. I also wished to share with those I love, a unique experience. Living in the West, one does not usually have the chance to really interact with a bona fide Tibetan Buddhist monk and Lama who has spent years alone meditating and performing puja in a cave on Mt. Kalish in Tibet. Those types of beings are not often found in Lincoln, Nebraska--walking down the aisles of Walmart or having coffee at Starbucks. Mine was the gift of an experience for a number of my friends and loved ones. And the gift was not so much a blessing from me as it was a blessing to me.
I was blessed by hours of sharing silence, watching hawks on the wing--listening to the ice crack in the frozen night as geese flew overhead--shadows over the moon. I was blessed as the crystal dorjee was pressed into my hand, and the prayer shawl was accepted, but then placed in turn around my neck. I was blessed by the simple presence of this holy man, and his knowing, kind smiles of understanding.
1-12-11: The events of this past year have forced me to stare my life right in the face. 2010 was a year of massive change in the realities of my day-to-day. And like all changes, those of this past year have....stretched me.... made me think and speak what for my whole life was unsaid and unthinkable.
I have worked hard ever since I was 14 years old. My first job was loading and unloading 500 pound stacks of boxed books on a two-wheel cart. Heavy manual labor--all day, sweating like a pig, dirty, dinged up and with a new-found lexicon of filthy language learned from the truck drivers who stood by and gave color commentary. I grew up quickly. After my first summer on the truck docks, and after developing a shipping system that revolutionized my employer's operations, I found myself being flown around the country in the corporate plane to organize stores newly acquired by the company.
Before I could get my learner's permit to drive a car, I was meeting with my boss in the back of the corporate plane, going over the inventories of stores that had been purchased--setting up the stores so they would comply with the operations of its new owner-- the company I worked for.
It was a quick and massive change.
Suddenly, and as a teenager, I was flying around the country....doing business. Given my upbringing and the socio-economic realities of my life--until that time I had never been in a real sit-down restaurant, and had never stayed in a motel, let alone a fancy hotel complete with a concierge. I had never flown in a plane, commercial or private. I had no idea what a credit card was. I was economically and socially sheltered. But then as a fifteen-year-old boy from a poor neighborhood, I was suddenly living in nice hotels, eating every meal in upscale restaurants, flying from city to city in a corporate plane, doing good work. My partner and co-worker was a man fresh from the rot of Vietnam--a helicopter bay gunner who had made it back alive, but had been spiritually raped during his two tours of duty.
In my early teens I was drinking cocktails in the watering holes of major cities, womanizing, and breaking up the fights my buddy would invariably start with anyone who wanted to dance with the devil. I wrestled away weapons from him and his adversaries, and on a number of occasions simply knocked Bob out so that he could not commit the serious mayhem he saw as necessary in his drunken rage.
Those years were times of incredible change in my life. Many firsts. Speeded growth. But more than anything, I had learned how to work for a living. And I really embraced that new reality. I loved to....work. I lived to work.
Now, forty-five years after my first real job, I find myself being in a position to....no longer have to work--or at least work like I have always worked. And that, for me, is such an alien understanding. It seems....unreal.
Over the past year I have been actively engaged in transitioning my business and basically teaching my art to others so that they may carry on my work. It is the epitome of freedom. But I am still looking at it out of the corner of my eye. It is a thing that I do not yet totally trust, nor do I know its landscape.
I tend to not do well with being comfortable. I sort of view comfort as an enemy. Right or wrong, I feel it blunts your edge. It lessens your resilience. It slackens your desire. It slakes your thirst. Invariably, it makes you....weak.
Contentment should not be confused with comfort. I am content to not succumb to a comfortable life. May I never know the shielding comfort of a life that is soft. May I always cast about my search....earnestly....alert to the very heartbeat and every breath of life.
1-03-11: One of the toughest, most physically aggressive fighters I've seen is Ido "The Hebrew Hammer" Pariente. He fights internationally, and holds world titles in K-1 and is a perennial champion in Europe and the Middle East. He was on SPIKE TV's THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER reality TV show two years ago.
Over ten years ago, Ido had left Tel Aviv, Israel and came to Lincoln to train at the dojo: Roseberry's Sho-Rei-Shobu-Kan Martial Arts Center ( www.shoreishobukan.org ). When he ran into Visa difficulties, I became his formal U.S. Sponsor. Back then he was just getting into Mixed Martial Arts, and had no Judo or Boxing experience. He started to fight locally--at the GROVE and later in Omaha and over in Iowa on the casino boats. My teacher, John Roseberry, and I were Ido's corner men for a few of his final fights here in the United States.
Ido went back to Israel, and has continued to be a professional MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter. He is quite the celebrity--even starring in an Israeli soft-drink company's TV advertisement. But first, and foremost, Ido is one hell of a fighter. Even with our size difference, I simply could not do anything with him. Sure, I could throw him off of me at will....at first. But he would just be right back there on me, and like a wolverine takes down a big moose, Ido would submit me with some weird arm bar, or choke me out after I was too gassed to do anything about it. He was formidable.
But like many true warriors, Ido had a big heart. He truly cared about people, and was always an encouraging young man who just so happened to have a passion....to fight. A fight in the cage was, for him, like a wonderfully physical chess match. He didn't derive pleasure from beating people, and beating them up--he derived his pleasure by....winning, and trying, and growing. Ido was a sensitive, caring man who just happened to be a professional fighter. He was a modern-day warrior priest.
Ido was recently a new father of twins--Ben and Guy.
This is the man I most remember. The ultimate fighter....
....with a huge heart.
Shalom, my friend.