Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote from Your Most Enlightened Values

Democracy presupposes morality, compassion and wisdom.  As people head to the polls today, I sincerely hope that they can clear their heads of all the mean-spirited, deceitful rhetoric and hype and vote from their inner-most values.  We can draw strength from our most cherished philosophers and the original message of our religions.

I grew up as a Catholic but also became familiar with Protestant Christianity and Orthodox Christianity. Drawing from that background, loving neighbor as self, caring for the sick, feeding the poor, ministering to those in prison, and being good stewards of the earth and all living beings are central messages that I think we all can respect.  Jesus also spoke of unity, of oneness.  If we vote from these core beliefs, we'll stay on the right path.

Since 1976, I also developed a respect for Indian philosophy and religion, and later for Chinese philosophy.  Drawing from these traditions has only underscored the importance of the central Christian message I learned as a child.  As Thich Nhat Hanh so wisely said, "We are here to realize the illusion of our separateness."  We are all one.  It is not us versus them!  Our happiness cannot be separated from their happiness. Their misery cannot be separated from our misery.  Even on the most superficial level, we are all on this tiny speck, this dust mote floating in the unfathomable vastness of space and we need to think globally to make the best of it for all our sakes.  How could this much not be clear?  But, it goes so much deeper than that.  When we are most settled and at peace, when insight begins to dawn, it becomes increasingly clearer that we are all in this together.  We are one at the most fundamental level.

When we vote, we should vote from our inner-most values and purest insights, leaving behind all the divisiveness we've heard.  Then it becomes clear that as good stewards, we should vote for a sustainable future and for ecological conservation.  We need to vote to care for the sick and feed the poor.  We need to vote for education and rehabilitation instead of incarceration.  We need to vote for diplomacy that extends peace and good will, not war and violence.  As the Buddha said, "Hatred never ceased by hatred in this world -- this is an ancient truth."  We just need to vote for what we hope for ourselves when we are old and need care and vote for the world that we hope for our children, a world free of war and terrorism, hunger, and unnecessary suffering.  Loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and peace begin in the heart of each person and spread outward.  Taking the time each day to meditate reveals this clearly.  

If we vote from fear, delusion, hatred, ignorance, or greed, our world will become a hell.  If we meditate each day and then vote from loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity (the four Brahmaviharas or divine abodes of Buddhism) our world will become a pure land, a paradise.  So, vote from wisdom and compassion, from a sense of unity, of oneness with everyone.  Vote from your core, most enlightened values and our democracy will work and become a shining example.  If we want to lead, we have to lead by example.  It can't happen any other way.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

American Canyon Trail

Yesterday morning, faced with the choice of staying home and cleaning the house and mowing the lawn or going on a hike, I found myself doing a last minute check on the local hiking sites to see what hikes were happening.  At 7:05, I RSVP'ed for the American Canyon Trail hike, got dressed, made a quick lunch and protein smoothy, filled my camel pack water bladder, and hopped in the car.  I arrived at the Roseville Park and Ride at 8:05, just 5 minutes late!

There are several other trail options in the area, but we left a car at the Quarry Trailhead on 49 and drove on up to the American Canyon Trail Head.

Directions description from Sacramento TrailMix site:

"Directions: I-80 East, drive 24 miles to the Elm Street exit in Auburn. Turn left at the traffic light onto Elm Street. At the bottom of the hill, turn left again onto High Street. Pass beneath the railroad tracks as you continue downhill on CA 49. Drive 2.3 miles down the winding highway to the confluence, where you follow the highway as it turns right across the American River toward Cool, where in 3 miles, you will turn left onto CA 193 toward Georgetown. Drive 5.6 miles, then turn left onto Sweetwater Trail on the north side, which is opposite of Pilgrim Court on the south. (This turn is before the village of Greenwood.) Your trailhead is on the right, just at that top of the street, before the gates to Auburn Lake Trails. Parking at the trailhead is limited, but you can park on the shoulder back down the road. The trailhead is signed American Canyon Trail – Third Gate."

American Canyon is quite steep, but the trail descends at a comfortable grade into the canyon.  This is about the easiest 11.5 miles there could be, since most of the trail is descending at a comfortable grade.  There is a beautiful little waterfall coming out of two large boulders and emptying into a pool off of Dead Truck Trail.

Coming out of the canyon, the trail opens into a service road that follows the south shore of the American River, passing a large cave and mining ruins back to the Quarry Trailhead.  Would love to see this when there is more water in the Spring, though it would be more difficult then to get the same shot as the one to the left!

American Canyon is the area where a lone jogger was attached and killed a few years ago, so it is prudent to hike in groups and wait until well after dawn and get back before dusk when these cats are most active.

More photos at Picasa:

American Canyon - 10/16/2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Yoga Campout at Manchester State Park

Manchester State Park Beach toward Point Arena
A few weeks ago when I was hiking at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, I was chatting with the organizer of the Sacramento True Yoga meetup group, Del Marie Samson, about wanting to put together a meditation retreat for the Bodhisattva Path meetup group.  Del Marie suggested we organize a yoga and meditation retreat for both groups.  A few days later after a lot of searching for a good place to hold a retreat, we reserved a group campsite at Manchester State Park in Mendocino County a bit south of Point Arena.  We were a bit concerned about the weather, but it turned out to be fine on Friday, overcast but ok on Saturday, and warmer Sunday morning.

On Friday evening, Promila, one of the Sac True Yoga teachers, led a wonderful yoga asana session at the campground close to the ocean.  She had a wonderful way of incorporating awareness of the environment into the practice by expanding the field of awareness to include the earth, sky, and ocean as we practiced. This was like the yoga asana version of Chan practice of Silent Illumination, which begins with an awareness of the body just sitting and naturally expands to encompass the environment.

We had a pasta toss of stir-fried vegies, pasta and a choice of marinara or Alfredo sauce with lots of side dishes everyone brought.

Saturday morning, Del Marie led a yoga session and we then began the ritual of boiling soy milk and water for oatmeal and tea.  After breakfast, we hiked a trail that eventually brought us out to the beach where we posed for a group shot and participated in various partner yoga poses and other antics including jumping rope with kelp stems.

Manchester State Park has five miles of beach.  I wandered up the beach and found a nice spot to meditate and then practice direct contemplation, a wonderful chan practice in which you focus fully on an object, in this case ocean waves, without entertaining any associations or internal discursive commentary.  It's a very innocent, focused, bare attention that displaces all notion of subject or self with complete awareness of the object.

Direct contemplation like taking a vacation from your self and just enjoying the object of perception as it really is.  This can lead to a pivot of awareness from being self or observer-centric to being fully absorbed in the object without reference to any subject, going beyond unity of subject and object to just pure awareness of the environment.  In that mode of perception, everything is perfectly functioning and infinitely correlated.  Waves impacting waves, giving rise to sea mist saturating the air with minute droplets of water, moistening wave-created sand, nurturing plants -- causes and conditions rising and falling with each wave from time immemorial with intrinsic balance and harmony. Yet no such thought arises, just a holistic flux of effortless perfection.

I led a short Vinyasa Krama asanda session and then a guided Silent Illumination meditation session on Sunday morning before we ate breakfast, packed up and left.  Had a wonderful talk on the way back to Sacramento that encompassed everything from Ghandi and the Bhadavad Gita, to Chan meditation, to wide ranging art topics.  So great to meet others with similar interests and truly interesting perspectives and insights on topics I thought I had long since made up my mind about.  This was a great weekend from start to finish.  I'm already planning another campout retreat for the Riverside, Santa Clara, and Sacramento Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association in Sequoia next July and hope to do another yoga retreat in the spring!

For more pictures, see the Yoga Campout Retreat - October 1 - 3 album on Picasa.

Yoga Campout Retreat - October 1 - 3

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Echo Peak via Echo Lake

Went on a Sacramento Trail Mix hike today to Echo Peak.  We met at the Folsom Park and Ride at 7:30 this morning and drove up to Echo Lake, taking Highway 50 East about 2 miles past Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, turning left (North) at the brown Berkeley Camp / Echo Lake sign.  About a half mile down this road is Echo Lakes Road.  Turn left and continue about a quarter mile to the Echo Lake parking lot.

The trail head starts just across the small dam near the boat ramp.  It follows the south side of the lake and then starts ascending.  This is part of the Tahoe Rim Trail.  If you stay on the trail, it goes toward Aloha Lake.  Instead, follow the trail upward (toward Triangle Lake, I think the sign said) and keep veering right and up when faced with forks in the path.  This leads you to a smaller summit.  Follow the ridge up to the left to Echo Peak.  It's a fairly strenuous 5.5 miles from the boat ramp to the peak, about a 2000 foot gain in elevation.  But, the path along Echo Lake is very scenic and the view from the top is truly breath taking.

From Echo Peak you have gorgeous views in every direction, especially toward the east and southeast where Lake Tahoe dominates the horizon.  I rated this hike 5 stars on the Trail Mix site.  Check out some of the photos I took on Picasa to see why.

From Echo Peak via Echo Lake - 09/26/2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I'm Lovin' My New Kindle!

Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite, 3G Works Globally - Latest Generation
I needed to get yet another programming book and have been thinking for years that I should use an ebook reader for these huge, heavy books. I used to have a Rocket ebook and liked it until the company went under. I decided after that to wait awhile before investing in another ebook reader!

It's been years and the
latest generation 3G + Wi-Fi, 6" display Kindle was looking pretty sweet so I thought I would give it a try.

So far, I am very impressed. The text truly is easy to read (incredibly better than the Rocket)! I adjusted to it very quickly and at this point find little difference between reading a book on it and an actual book. I have the Kindle ebook reader on my Droid Incredible and love being able to use the touch screen. Too bad the Kindle doesn't have this capability yet. But for the price this is a great ebook reader. You can have 3500 books on it and it weighs about as much as a small paperback novel. The display reads like paper and you can change the font size and the orientation. You can look up any word with the dictionary.

It also has a browser that lets you read your favorite news or blogs online with no 3G charge. Also, I downloaded lots of free classics! And the Kindle book format is generally considerably cheaper. I love it.

I'm already well into the book I need to read for my job, Pro JPA 2: Mastering the Java™ Persistence API (Expert's Voice in Java Technology).  So far, so good! It is really amazing how far things have come on the Java persistence front (my nerdiness is showing)!

Kindle Lighted Leather Cover, Black (Fits 6" Display, Latest Generation Kindle)
If you get a Kindle, you must get the cover. It is really great and makes the Kindle very portable. It has this cool build in light that gets its power directly from the Kindle.  What a great design!  Very impressed over all!

I also got Beyond Mindfulness. It was on my wish list for awhile now.  Looking forward to reading this!

  I had been thinking about getting the 9 inch version but it is considerably more expensive and I was afraid it would be too big to carry around.

Kindle DX Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G, 9.7" Display, Graphite, 3G Works Globally – Latest Generation
The new 9 inch Kindle DX
I definitely feel I made the right choice. I've been taking my 6 inch Kindle everywhere with me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Marin Headlands

Went hiking with my son and daughter in the Marin Headlands today. We were running late to meetup with the Sacramento Trail Mix meetup group so we just hiked on a trail that I used to take my daughter on when she was little.  It was so great being there again with her and this time with my son as well. 

Gavriil was quite the hiker today.  We went quite a way toward Stinson Beach on one of the upper trails above the Matt Davis trail and then came back on the Matt Davis trail.  Then, we went to one of my daughter's favorit places for lunch in the Marina district in San Francisco.  Had a wonderful time!

There is something truly enchanting about the  Marin Headland, one of my favorite places on Earth!  To see other photos, check out my Picasa album, Marin Headlands 9-12-2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Vacation What Are We Seeking?

I find it ironic that we spend the entire year looking forward to traveling for a week or two to some other place that we hope will bring us enough pleasure to make all our work worthwhile.  Or perhaps we need a rest after working so hard and just want to go somewhere and take it easy.  Or maybe we have a genuine interest in something that really makes us feel alive and we travel to participate with others in something that adds meaning.  But, what is this pleasure, this rest, this meaning that we seek if only for 1/52nd or 1/26th of our year?  Wouldn't it be nice to just naturally experience this pleasure, ease, and meaning the other 51 or 52 weeks a year?  What are we seeking and how can we live it?

I like to travel.  I like spiritual journeys. Pilgrimages.  I want to experience something that is irrevocably life changing in the most positive way.  I want to be completely and forever transformed by my journey. But, no matter where I have ever been, after returning, slowly but surely life returns to the way it was before the journey.  I've traveled to famous churches, to monasteries, to temples in several countries.  But the effect was short lived.  I've been to wonderful resorts.  I've laid out all night on beaches and backpacked to high mountain lakes.  Some of these trips made a deeper impression than others, but none transformed me the way I was wanting to be transformed.  When I returned, the same problems I had left were still there.  I still had the same cravings and aversions, though they may have been diminished for a time.  I was no kinder, no more virtuous, no more wise a few weeks after I returned than I was before I left.  What I was seeking was so incredibly short lived!

A few years ago, I decided to start going on retreats again after not being on one for many years.  Chan  retreats. Vipassana retreats.  These are silent retreats.  You aren't allowed to use a computer, use a cell phone, or talk to anyone for the entire time you are there.  But, they are life transforming.  Once the chatter and commentary in your head stops, you can see clearer than you might have known was possible! This is the ultimate vacation!  There is nothing like journeying to a state of equanimity and experiencing life millisecond by millisecond. How rich the world is if we have eyes to see and ears to hear! At such times, there is no inner or outer.  There is only perfection, suchness, in every passing second.

Where is there to go when right here right now is perfect in every respect?  What could be more pleasurable, restful, or meaningful that being fully awake in this very moment?  Once the chattering stops, the music begins. The grand symphony of life. Everything sings in response to everything else, infinitely correlated, infinitely inter-responding in a perfectly frictionless, fluid, natural harmony.  Isn't this what we were always seeking, to be fully awake, at ease in body and mind, and perfectly content to just experience things just as they are without judgment, commentary, or any associations?  Just bare, clear awareness of what really is?  Having experienced this, we may wonder how it is that this was ever hidden from us.

We just have such a long ingrained habit of stirring things up!  We stir up our thoughts.  We stir up our emotions.  By doing so, we miss what is already naturally there. There never was a time when it wasn't there, like the moon that is reflected perfectly once the waters become placid!  We miss what we would experience if we would just let go, be still, and let everything flow naturally.  Then, our environment is no longer separate from us and we are no longer pinched off in our own little neurotic worlds.  It's only our grasping and pushing away that hides the real state of the world from us. Our cravings, lusts, aversions, hatreds dim our perception until we are truly in darkness, barely living, like automatons or zombies pulled onward by hunger and thirst.  Or driven by fear.

What if we could go on vacation and come back more alive than we ever previously imagined possible?  What if when we returned, we were more in touch with our thoughts and feelings than ever before?  What if we, having learned to rest in every breath, in every moment, could easily regenerate energy and move through the day with grace and ease?  What if we had the luxury of time to really feel and really think before we speak?  How many hurtful things would go unsaid! How many kindnesses would be shared!  How valuable such a vacation would be for us individually, but also for our families and for the world!  Terrorism and war would be an absurdity in such a world.

The next time you think about going on a vacation, take time to consider what you are truly seeking. Consider whether going to Disneyland, Las Vegas or to the beach compares favorably to taking time out to be completely silent and let everything settle completely.  When the mind is completely settled, awareness is sharpest, most expansive, most penetrating.  When the mind is completely content, does not grasp or push away, perception is pure and insight naturally occurs.  This kind of perception and insight can be life transforming.  If enough people have this kind of vacation, we would all live in paradise.