Category Archives: Inspiration

Tibetan Sky Burial

When I die, I want to free up real estate so that others can more easily take my place. So I don’t like the idea of being buried in the ground. Just incinerate my body and spread the ashes to the wind.

Or better yet, let me feed the wildlife, by giving me a Tibetan-style Sky Burial.

The finality of death is chilling. I like to dispel the chill by assuming there’s a hereafter. I like to assume that the only finality is the end of our history on this earth, and that somehow our consciousness will migrate to a different realm.

We simply move on, to chase new unicorns in new ways.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no inside information on this subject. And I’m willing to agree that I could be living in a fool’s paradise. But for me, a fool’s paradise beats the depression and abject terror that would darken my every remaining day, if I assumed there is no more life after our bodies cease to function.

So I can watch a Tibetan Sky Burial with hope, rather than horror. I see death as a change, and quite possibly a change for the better. And this thought of death as change leaves me looking forward, to some degree, to my last day on this crazy earth.

Tibetan Sky Burials tend to attract audiences of Chinese tourists. And the monks who conduct these burials sometimes complain about the tourists, viewing them and their cell phone cameras as desecrating a solemn event.

And yet Buddhism teaches us to embrace impermanence. One way to embrace the impermanence of life, is to come face-to-face with this vulturine approach to the disposal of dead bodies. So I like that audiences and cell phone cameras are allowed.

You too can be part of the audience, by watching the following video.

But I must warn you: If you’re squeamish, you might want to keep a barf bucket nearby.

Bread of Life

Today we start a new decade. 10 is a nice, round number that’s easy to work with. So, with my limited math skills, I like to divide my life into decades. Sometimes I like to look back, decennium to decennium, and see how my life has changed.

And the change is always dramatic. My life circumstances 10 years ago are much different than now. And with each 10-year increment, remembering backward, I find more great differences.

The philosophies I live by are also very different. They’ve constantly and imperceptibly metamorphosed, day-after-day, to adjust to my gradually changing life. From yesterday to today, there’s not much difference. But from 10 years ago, there’s been a sea change. That doesn’t invalidate the way I guided my life a decade ago. It only means that I’ve had to change my ways, ever-so-slightly, day-to-day, to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of life.

Thus, I’ve concluded that there is no one guiding philosophy for life that can survive the test of time. We must change, and keep changing, to adjust, correct, and compensate for the viscous foundation we stand upon. As our lives change, so must our perceptions and philosophies.

It seems to me that the philosophies you and I live by today have never been used before. They may resemble philosophies of the past, but there are subtle differences. Life as we once knew it is not the life we know today, nor will it ever be again. And so we’ve had to make adjustments.

And as we progress through this new decade, we’ll have to keep adjusting.

But I wonder what drives the adjustment process. How does this miracle occur that enables us to adapt to each new, changing day? Is it inspiration from a higher source? Is it cues we receive from others? Or is it reflection, from the meditation of our own minds?

Whatever it is, be it deified, social, or innate, or perhaps all three, I believe it’s absolutely essential that we never lose touch with it. Especially if it seems to be working. For this is the source of our philosophy.

This, I believe, is our bread of life.

Happy New Year. And may the bread of life you consume this year, and this decade, be abundant and delicious.

The True Meaning of Christmas

A traditional nativity set on the church altar, at Mission San Gabriel, California.

Today is the real day of Christmas, so Merry Christmas everyone! Actually, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. After today, our days will grow longer and longer.

This was the favorite holiday of pagans. They loved the sun. Worshiped it, in fact. And they got pie-eyed drunk every year, to celebrate its return from its southern retreat.

A recrudescent sun, peeking through clouds.

The early Catholics had a hell of a time converting pagans to Christianity. They tried torture, drowning, and mass murder. But apparently, many pagans would rather attend a mass murder than a Catholic mass. This had a lot to do with the bacchanal celebrations of the winter solstice. They were such a blast, nobody wanted to give them up.

This nativity set at Mission Santa Barbara, California, seems to have come from the Stone Age.

Finally the Catholics compromised and moved the celebration of Christ’s birthday to the winter solstice date. Nobody could agree on when Jesus was born anyway, so this was an easy move to make.

A modern nativity set, complete with hippies, at Mission Santa Barbara, California.

Imperfections in the calendar caused Christmas to eventually slide a few days past the solstice. But it’s still close enough, and besides, there aren’t many fundamentalist pagans around anymore to complain.

Solar eclipse shadow patterns projecting through tree leaves. Eclipses were more worrisome to pagans than the winter solstice, as they occurred unexpectedly, and unlike the winter solstice, nobody was sure the sun would return.

The Christmas compromise makes sense in some ways. The birth of Christ symbolizes new life for those who die, just like the returning sun melts away winter and brings new life to the land. And Christ is supposedly the “light” of this world, just like the sun.

This nativity set at Mission Santa Ines, in Solvang, California, is about 400 years old. I guess over the years, the three wise men, sheep, and angels must have all been dropped and broken.

I’m an atheist, but I like the sun as much as any drunken pagan. So I like what the winter solstice symbolizes. And after the winter of my life is over, I like to assume that there’s new life on the other side.

This nativity set at Mission Santa Barbara, California, depicts Christ being born in a canoe. Tsk, such a small place to be born. Perhaps there was no room at the ship.

I also like that we don’t have to be pagans to enjoy the benefits of our returning sun. And on the same token I doubt we have to be Christians to have eternal life. If there is such a thing as eternal life, then we’re living it right now. And we will always live it. There’s no getting out of something as enduring as eternal life. Just as there’s no keeping the sun from shining on earth.

The promise of a nice, warm sun, and eternal life. For me, that’s the true meaning of Christmas.

Sunrise over Long Beach, California, with an oil tanker promising warm furnaces, and eternal mobility for our cars.

Preparing for the Afterlife

Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize a good trail to the Afterlife.

It’s a question that had bugged him since childhood. “How do I prepare for the afterlife?” There he lay on his deathbed after more than 80 years of entertaining this question and never finding an adequate answer. He felt frustrated. He felt resigned. He felt hopeless. He realized it was too late. He knew the answer would never come to him, and even if it did he would not have time act on it.

The darkling fingers of death snatched his soul away the very next morning. Through labyrinthian tunnels, voids, and lights, this manqué spirit was whisked. Off to the unknown. Off and away to somewhere he had never been. Off without his toothbrush, or any other form of preparation. He felt exhilaration, mixed with dread.

And then the afterlife opened up before him. A magnificent world of glowing colors, teeming with sylphs, wights, and wraiths. Love resonated through the atmosphere like the thrum of a harp. Benisons blessed the air. And a music of harmonious activity excited his soul. He felt warm. He felt welcome. And his heart filled with joy and peace.

Spirits swept by to greet him. Most were strangers, but he recognized some. His mother. His father. Grandparents. Siblings. Old friends. Old pets. He felt thrilled with this reunion, but even so he could not hide a piece of sadness from these greeters. Communication and understanding was instant. And they discovered that he felt sad due to not having properly prepared for arrival to such a beautiful place as this.

“But you did prepare,” they urged. “And you prepared well. You lived the difficult, painful life of a physical being. Yet you never hardened your heart toward others. You spent your challenging physical life loving people, animals, and all other living beings. You were kind when you could, and cruel only when necessary. So you lived your life basically the same way we lived ours. And for that reason you will feel comfortable and at home with us here in this place. Otherwise you would have wanted to go to some other place.

“We are evidence of your preparation. For we would not be greeting you so cheerily, nor would you want anything to do with us, if you had not prepared.”

He had not been a saint. He had never championed a cause or engaged in heroic action. He had never been very religious or civic-minded. He’d just lived an ordinary life, with ordinary character. A basically good citizen with a healthy mix of love and wariness for his neighbor.

So don’t fret over preparing for the afterlife. Just try to be kind to others, and avoid cruelty as much as possible. Follow your natural instincts. Respect all living beings. And do your best to understand and live harmoniously with both friend and foe.

If there is a hereafter, I suspect there is no better way to prepare for it than just this.

Facade

A big attraction of Joshua Tree National Park is its numerous piles of gigantic granite boulders. Who put all these boulders here, and why did they go through all that trouble?

When I was young I was sometimes accused of hiding behind a facade and not revealing my actual, inner self. And it’s true, I really was hiding behind a facade.

Well actually the boulders formed hundreds of millions of years ago when this area was part of the ocean floor. I’ll help you take a nap right now, by telling you the story . . .

I was hiding the ugly pain of an abused childhood. I was hiding suspicions of personal incompetence and the self-doubt of unproven youth. I was hiding my naivete regarding this strange new world that everyone expected me to conquer. And I was hiding my feelings for young ladies who might embarrass me with rejection, should they turn me down.

In fact, I was hiding these and many more things.

250 million years ago the North American tectonic plate slid over the heavier Pacific plate like two quarreling spouses having a dish fight. This forced seawater between the plates, which began boiling like an angry teakettle, due to heat from the friction of the sliding plates.

I built a palisade of rock impossible to penetrate. No one could discover the exotic terrain hiding behind my granite facade. And its imposing escarpment left few even willing to try.

The heat formed magma, and the steam created enormous chambers for the magma to fill.

But assaults from time and the weathering of life have changed all of that. Temblors from the chthonic depths of Earth have fractured my facade’s structural integrity. Eolian winds have hollowed out windows and notches. And downpours from the heavens have eroded gaping barrancas, washing alluvial minerals to the pediplains below.

The magma then cooled into granite. This granite then fractured from tectonic pressure, forming individual boulders.

Here, there, and in many places, my facade has crumbled more and more with the onslaughts of each passing season. Now the curious, the brave, and the careful have many opportunities to explore. Windows have appeared within rock walls, enticing the adventurous to discover more. And slots and passes have cracked apart, affording trails to the kingdom within.

It mostly stands tall and imposing, but my facade no longer serves as a completely solid wall. Rather, it is a screen. It filters out the lazy, while allowing entry to those willing to make a reasonable effort to get inside.

The granite boulders were pushed upward by the Pacific plate below. As they rose and broke the surface of the earth, rainwater percolated down and dissolved the softer granite into soil.

Behind my facade hide delicate vulnerabilities that require protection. But I’m willing to share these vulnerabilities with those who’ve taken the time to discover the decomposed granite, the joints, the splits, and the rounded corners of my stone wall. They already know I’m vulnerable, so there’s no sense in hiding anymore.

As I age I find I have less to lose and more to reveal. And so the facade continues to erode.

The soil then eroded away, revealing the mounds of large boulders that now cover the landscape.

But some of this facade must always remain. And not just my facade, but the barriers of everyone. Facades can be as beautiful as the humanity they conceal. And they serve as a superable challenge for those truly interested in exploring, while deterring the casual passerby who might only spoil or abuse.

There’s nothing wrong with a facade. Let your facade stand fast and majestic. But allow the forces of time to open you up some. At least enough to offer passage to those who will respect what they find.

Who knows, you might enjoy their company.

A bunch of homo sapiens sapiens, who only just recently evolved 30,000 years ago, came along and decided these boulders looked pretty cool. And so they honored what they found by declaring the area to be a National Park.

A Dangerous Pleasure

You’re looking at 85 years of patience. In the 1920s, horticulturist Luther Gage introduced the Ranunculus flower to Southern California. Gage’s flowers were grown next to Frank Frazee’s vegetable farm in Oceanside, California, and it didn’t take Frank long to notice them and appreciate their beauty. In 1933 Frazee also began cultivating this flower.

One of the most pleasurable feelings for me is the emotion of anger. I love being pissed off. I enjoy the rumble of the volcano, vibrating within my gut, and the flashes of lightning that electrify my nerves.

But anger is a dangerous feeling. I can’t think rationally when I’m angry. And this makes me prone to try to solve a problem by doing something that is harmful to others or destructive to myself.

Frank’s son Edwin, soon dropped out of high school to help his dad on the flower farm. Edwin loved the flowers, and began to carefully develop different strains of Ranunculus, by selecting seeds from unusual flower colors and full flower shapes. He eventually developed blossoms of thirteen different hues, and also bred a Ranunculus bulb with a never-before-seen infusion of petals, known as a “double”. By 1965, Edwin had taken over the farm, and he moved the operation to these fields in Carlsbad, California.

Some people say that venting is healthy. But how healthy can that be, when it leads to saying things that alienate others? Or when it leads to doing things that destroy what we hold precious?

It feels damn good to blow off steam. But that good feeling can be addictive. Which leads to more and more blowing off of steam, until we become a regular teapot, frequently howling and whistling and bubbling up.

“Tecolote” means “owl” in Spanish. The Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flower was given this name for owls that nested in the Oceanside/Carlsbad area.

I’ve found that the best way to handle my anger is to avoid the venting method. Instead I wait. When I catch anger in time I stop what I’m doing and just wait. I savor the powerful feeling and allow it to churn and spin and roil inside, all that it wants, while I simply watch it like a spectator at a gladiator event.

Thumbs down, always! But only in my mind.

The Southern California climate is perfect for growing the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flower. Over half a billion of these blooms can be seen waving their heads in the breeze on these 55 acres of land, during the springtime.

Anger takes a lot of energy, so it can’t last long. After a short while of watching the show it burns out and fades away, leaving a soft, lingering afterglow. That’s when I become capable of rational thought. And then I use the energy from the afterglow to address the problem in a way that is far more likely to resolve the issue, rather than make matters worse.

There are about 500 different species of Ranunculus. It is native to Asia Minor, and is a member of the buttercup family. But some think the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus resembles a rose. A “rose” that has no thorns.

But for me, anger is like a ninja warrior, or Cato stalking Inspector Clouseau. It suddenly strikes from nowhere, and quickly overtakes me. I must always stay on my toes and remain mindful of it. Only then can I recognize it in time, and stop what I’m doing before I fly off the handle and engage in behavior I’ll regret later.

These workers are gathering flowers for floral shops throughout the country. Perhaps you can thank them for helping you get over a spat with your spouse.

I’m not always successful. Sometimes a surprise attack of anger gets the best of me. And that really ticks me off. But I try. And I’ve found that with effort I can usually stop torrential rainstorms of anger from flooding and washing away the things in my life I’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Edwin Frazee teamed up with another horticulturist, named Paul Ecke, Jr. It was Ecke’s idea to open the flower fields to tourists. Since 1992, the Flower Fields of Carlsbad have been open to the public from March into May, and have attracted thousands of peripatetic petal-gazers from all over the globe.

The result is softer rains, that nourish the soil of my toil. Rains from the hydrosphere that allow for carefully planned irrigation, planting, and growth. Rains that leave in their wake a cornucopia of beauty and color, for anyone to enjoy.

Just like fields of flowers in the springtime.

This American flag is made of petunias. It’s another feature you can view at the Flower Fields of Carlsbad, and is grown to honor our veterans.

Love and Layaway

The long wait was over. A surrender had been signed on the deck of the USS Missouri, and troops were returning home. Bill was one of them. He had survived unscathed from all the hell he discovered in war.

And his purpose in life, his reason for surviving all the blood and guts of combat, and all the separation in time and miles from family and home, was for one person. Hazel.

For Hazel, Bill was like a layaway gift. Back in the days before credit cards, that’s how you purchased things you couldn’t afford right away. The shop put it up in their storeroom while you made layaway payments. After the final payment you could pick it up and take it home.

Each letter Bill and Hazel exchanged while he was away fighting the Japanese was like a layaway payment. The handwritten missives helped preserve their feelings for each other. And when the day finally came where he could step down off that ship onto dry ground forever, she was waiting for him. She picked up her layaway gift and took it home.

They had already been engaged for over four years. Now it was time to plan the wedding. And one of the first orders of business was to shop for wedding rings.

Bill’s strength was his exuberance and unbridled pursuit of all the wonders of life. Hazel loved that wildness about him. But her strength was her self-discipline and circumspect approach to life. Bill recognized and appreciated the fact that he needed someone like her, to keep him from a Gadarene plunge off of some sort of cliff of disaster.

“Pick a nice one!” Bill cajoled. Hazel peered through the glass at all the clinquant shiny circles resting upon their satin beds. She saw many nice ones. But she also saw the price tags. And she knew that Bill didn’t have much money. Military pay was just a little higher than a beggar’s salary in those days, and Bill wasn’t much of a saver, anyway.

“That one, right there,” she pointed. It was a thin little gold band, priced at $11.99.

“Awe, come on Hazel!” he shoved her shoulder kind of hard. “That’s the cheapest one in the shop! Pick a nice one!” He shoved her again. “Pick a diamond, an emerald, a ruby. I want you to wear a gorgeous wedding ring. Come on!” He slapped her on the back goodheartedly.

That ired her. How could she show this damn fool what a stupid spendthrift he was? How could she persuade him to back off with his pushfulness and allow prudence to prevail?

Her temper flared, and she paused and remained silent for a long moment. That was Hazel’s discipline. She refused to act until she calmed down, and could think clearly. Finally a rational idea struck her cooling mind. Hazel stepped over to a spot at the counter that displayed the biggest, brightest, finest, and most expensive ring in the jewelry shop.

“That one, Bill! Buy me that one!”

Bill’s face went instantly grim. “That one? Are you sure?” he murmured.

“Oh yes, Bill, that one! I just love it! Isn’t it gorgeous! I’d just LOVE to have a ring like that!”

Bill shoved his hand in his pocket and fiddled around with a small wad of cash. He gazed hard at the thick, shiny ring with the giant stone. And at the $599.99 price tag. Now was HIS time for a moment of silence. He gulped hard.

“H-Hazel, I-I just don’t know. You know that I love you, and I want you to have anything in the world. But . . . but I just don’t think I can afford this ring.”

The argument was won that day by the self-disciplinarian. Bill swallowed his pride and made the provident choice. He purchased the thin gold band for $11.99.

During the early years of their marriage they had a few more disputes about money. But Hazel’s patience allowed her to gradually rein in her profligate husband, and get the spending under control. And they actually began to grow a little nest egg.

Their love for each other grew also. Who would have thought this odd couple could stay together for so long? But they allowed their disparate qualities to complement each other, rather than clash.

Their tenth anniversary rolled around, and Christmas soon followed. On Christmas morning, Hazel and Bill were pulled out of bed by their excited young son. While the child was tearing open a present, Hazel noticed something in the tree. It was a most unusual looking ornament, small and glittery. She examined it more closely.

What she saw lifted her eyebrows in shock.

It was the ring.

It was the selfsame expensive wedding ring she had picked out at the jewelry store ten years before, to convince Bill to buy the cheap wedding ring.

“Bill! Oh my God! How did you get this?!”

Bill smiled in delight at her. “Honey, you know that I love you, and I want you to have anything in the world that you desire. You wanted that ring, but I couldn’t afford it. So after I bought the cheap ring, I put this ring on layaway. I’ve been making payments on it for the past ten years.”

Fifty years later, Hazel became a customer at my wife’s beauty salon. My wife met Bill and was impressed with the love and warmth of this elderly couple.

Then Bill passed away, leaving Hazel to live alone. After Bill died, Hazel told my wife that her son would call her every evening to tuck her into bed. But one day she lamented that her son was going on vacation, and could not make the ritualistic evening phone call.

My wife offered to stop by her house and do the tucking in. That evening was when my wife spotted the ring. It was pinned to a blouse beneath Hazel’s dress, close to her heart. As Hazel climbed into bed, she explained that her old, withered fingers had shrank too small to retain the ring, but she didn’t want to stop wearing it.

And then Hazel told the story about how she got the ring.

This is how my wife learned about the bigness of a man’s heart. And a story about the power of patience. But most of all, a story about the love of this couple.

Love, with a little help from layaway.

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