Monday, November 21, 2011

Haiku reflection

Canvas on a lakeBärensee, Stuttgart, Germany, November 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 51mm, exposure 1/60 sec @ 4.2 ISO 200, no flash 
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Rippling water
A shimmering masterpiece
Each moment anew

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On being kind

Buddha FrogBöblingen, Germany, September 2011,
Canon PowerShot S90, 35mm focal length equiv. 28mm, exposure 1/125 sec @ f4, ISO 80, no flash, exposure bias -1/3 
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]
This morning there was a fly buzzing around my office; an uninvited guest from last night's (wonderful) dinner on the veranda, with the door propped open so Frito could come and go.

Flies really annoy Frito.  He snaps at them whenever they buzz or land on him.  He'll actually get up and go to bed just to avoid a fly.  Carol's not too keen on them either, but mostly because they annoy Frito.

Let's see -- flies eat sh*t, they can carry disease, lay their eggs on something over-ripe in the kitchen, and incessantly bounce themselves against the window trying to get out.  I mean, what good are they?  And where is that fly-swatter anyway?

Sound familiar?  Are these common thoughts for you?

Well, I've now come to a different perspective.  Since I made my intention sometime ago not to harm any living creature, I now see this fly not as an annoyance, but simply as a trapped animal trying to get free.  First of all, that feels better.  One less annoyance.  Then I do what I can to free it, which really isn't very hard (just a cup and stiff piece of paper, and he's pretty easy to catch against the window).  Now take him outside, and let him go.

And you know what?  It makes me smile.  A deep and satisfied smile.  I just helped another being.

It's funny -- I find I've become very sensitive to all beings, and it just feels right.  And when I see someone act as I would have not that long ago, and swat at an insect that bothers him, I feel this pang in my gut.  Why do we feel the urge to kill just to remove an annoyance?  What sort of conditioning have we been given?  Do we even realize what we are doing?

But here's the good news.  It is really pretty easy to reverse such conditioning if you want to.

It really only takes your sincere intention -- that's all -- just a simple decision on your part.  Because even though your old habits will die hard, and you'll find yourself accidentally swatting at flies or stepping on ant hills, you will observe a momentary pang in your own gut, and think for a moment about that action.  And this will cause the space to form between action and reaction, and this will give power to your intention, and allow you to change your behavior, and yes, experience great peace and happiness.

It is a wonderful and peaceful place to be.  I wish you all have the opportunity to experience such peace.

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." -- Dalai Lama 

Monday, September 19, 2011

This is Water

This is Water, Esslingen, Germany, August 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 200mm, exposure 1/160 sec @ f5.6, ISO 200, with flash
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]
Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig. -- Marcus Aurelius 

This weekend I spent some time following-my-nose on the web and stumbled upon this gem.  A commencement address given in 2005 by David Foster Wallace (here is the audio Part 1 and Part 2).  I commend it to your "reflective time".  Update:  here is the complete audio in one place with some highlighting of text.  And perhaps even more interesting if not as complete, is this short video.

It's a message of getting caught by our "default settings," which dictate, for various reasons (genes, instinct, conditioning, culture), the way we see the world.  But of course, like the fish that swim in water, they may see many things, but don't see the water.

It's about cultivating our awareness of just how we operate on the default settings; what I think can be summed up in the phrase "the human condition".  And with that awareness -- that understanding that "this is water" -- we have a chance to see the world in an entirely different light.

We can see beauty where others only see blight,  decay, and ugliness.  We can live with a lightness that allows us to look beyond the mundane.  We can offer love and compassion when others are trapped by selfishness.

Yes, I found it to be a very useful morning of exploration, and self-examination.
There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. 
And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. 
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. 
Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. ... 
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. 
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. 
But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings. -- David Foster Wallace  
Oh, and about the blog.  Yes, well, got a little bit trapped myself by the work-a-day world.  Live and learn, shall we?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 86: Hero or goat?

Hero or goat?Kualoa Ranch, Oahu, Hawaii, March 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 57mm, exposure 1/160 sec @ f6.3, ISO 200, no flash
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Well, it seems my New Year's Resolution of a post every day came to a rather abrupt stop.  Apologies to those who came looking and found the stagnant blog.  But you know what they say ... consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ;-)

So, I guess in the hero/goat comparison, that makes me the goat.  But at least this one is certainly adorable.  And you can formulate your own opinion of what's the meaning of the tongue.

And there is another great thing about resolutions.  Once you get over the perspective that they have to be a once-and-for-all change, you can just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue where you left off.  At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it ;-)

So now we are on home leave.  Carol and I flew out to Hawaii to visit our daughter Allison who lives on Oahu now.  And then our son Gregory came out to join us for a family vacation.  The first time we are all together in almost 3 years, given our current geographic separation.  And it is awesome to get to spend that time in Hawaii.  

This photo comes from our visit to the Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, where scenes from a number of famous TV shows (e.g., Lost) and movies (e.g., Jurassic Park) are filmed.  At Alli's suggestion, we decided to rent ATVs for a 2-hour guided tour to celebrate Greg's birthday.  It was a blast.  Now we are onto Maui for a few days, and then on to Kauai for some more sight seeing.

Here's one picture of the family from the ATV tour.  Not sure if you can tell from the photo, but we all have some dust on our faces from the ride.  If you are ever in Hawaii, I'd put it on the list.

  • Donations:  To to help provide transportation to under-developed countries
  • Exercise: Walk along beach in Maui with Greg (75 mins); family walk along Lahaina strip (90 mins)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day 51: Education or Indoctrination?

IndoctrinationBasicila of San Marco, Venice, Italy, February 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 60mm, exposure 1/33 sec @ f5.3, ISO 1600, no flash, exposure bias -1/3
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

This is a very captivating painting right at the entrance to San Marco's Basilica in Venice.  A young child being taught about his lord, Jesus Christ.  And certainly it represents a story retold around the world, with differing messages depending on the faith.

Is this religious education fundamentally different from that taught in the Madrasahs in Pakistan or Afghanistan?  Certainly the tenants of the faith differ, but is the approach fundamentally different?

Is one child's religious education another's indoctrination?  Can those words be used interchangeably, and is that OK with you?

Personally, this is an area I struggle with.  Young minds are so impressionable.  They can be shaped and sculpted to believe anything their authority figures teach.  And later "deprogamming" those beliefs can take enormous effort.  

And what determines whether the child attends Sunday school, Hebrew school, or a Madrasah?  Plain and simple -- geography (by and large).  Is that the right basis for which creed is accepted as truth?

This gives me reason for great pause, and is something to reflect upon I think.

  • Donation:  To our server at breakfast in our hotel.  Tips are not expected, but it seemed the appropriate thing to do.  And he seemed happy ;-)
  • Exercise:  One last day roaming the back allies and canals of Venice (TBD mins).  Just Carol and me -- very lovely.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day 50: Work it!

Work it!Venice, Italy, February 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 45mm, exposure 1/30 sec @ f4.5, ISO 200, no flash
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Now there is an intent gondolier.  He's focused, giving maximum effort, eyes fixed on his destination.

How about you?  When you have an objective to achieve, are you similarly dedicated?

I'm not saying this is how one should go through life continuously -- it would take away from relaxing, being open to new possibilities, and listening to one's heart.

But this isn't an either/or proposition.  Once you have decided upon your objective, then it becomes time to excel.  So work it!

  • Donation:  to a local group raising money to help drug addicts get and stay clean.  The woman soliciting my donation said she had been clean for 2-years and was now a "good girl".  To me, that cause was worth some euros.
  • Exercise:  Wandering Venice with some friends from the US.  While we didn't cover so much distance (too many shopping and photo stops), we were on our feet all day (300 mins)

Day 49: What mask(s) are you wearing?

The many masks of VeniceVenice, Italy, February 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 30mm, exposure 1/60 sec @ f4, ISO 200, no flash, exposure bias -1/3
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]
Everyone wears them.  Masks ... expected by our work, our friends, our family, even society in general.

But it can add to your internal angst to have to keep putting them on and taking them off.  By doing so, you are not really being true to yourself, or perhaps better, letting yourself find your true abiding nature.

Who are you when you are not playing a role for someone else?  It can be a life-long inquiry.

But as you incrementally identify and then remove the masks that are incongruent with your true nature, you will feel yourself climb the gentle slope of inner peace and tranquility.

You will become authentic, genuine, and sincere.

So ask yourself today ... what mask are you wearing, and why?  And then try removing it and watch your behavior change.

What is your mask?Venice, Italy, February 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 57mm, exposure 1/160 sec @ f6.3, ISO 200, no flash
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

  • Donation:  To many churches in Venice (appears more business than religion)
  • Exercise:  TBD

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 48: Tourists in Europe

Raining in Prague, painting in a tourist shop, Prague, Czech Republic, December 2010,
Panasonic DMC-ZS7, 35mm focal length equiv. 137mm, Exposure 1/5 sec @ f4.5, ISO 400, no flash
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Today we are tourists again, heading this time to Venice for the long weekend and meeting up with some friends from the U.S.

It's one of the best reasons to work and live in Europe ... to be tourists, but not only on vacation.  That requires so much planning, and you are so dependent on the weather, peak travel season, etc.  I, for one, like to be some hybrid of tourist and local ... maybe that's a 'tourcal'.

Normally we would drive, even down to Venice, Italy (about 10 hours with stops), since we have Frito with us.  But this time we have a wonderful couple recommended by our vet taking care of Frito.  It is sort of a trial run to see how things go, so we (both) are comfortable for the long home visit trip planned to Hawaii next month.

So instead of driving, we decided to catch a flight (which is only an hour or so).  It will cost more, but we'll also have more time to see Venice, and to just relax.  Sounds good for this 'tourcal'.  

All work and no play is not a good approach to the work/life balance.  I hope to begin to even the score ;-)  I hope you all enjoy your long weekend as well.

  • Donation:  to Animal Rescue League of NH, to help adopt pets
  • Exercise:  Walking around Venice, just following our noses (210 mins) 

Day 47: Stack 'em high

Stack 'em highTel Aviv, Israel, January 2011,
Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 82mm, exposure 1/4 sec @ f5.6, ISO 900, no flash
 © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

We were out walking around the beach area in Tel Aviv when we snapped this shot of the moon flanked by some high rise hotel or apartments.

Then just a little bit farther, in a park area left undeveloped, look at the little fellow we found.  That's a hedgehog ... in Tel Aviv, Israel of all places!

And it reminds me that we really do need to be careful not to overdevelop our land.  As the Native Americans would ask, how will our development strategy affect the next seven generations?  Is our approach really sustainable?

If we cannot answer 'yes', we need to look long and hard at our development policies.  There are plenty of good examples of how to do it -- right here where we live in Germany.  Houses built closer together, but vast open fields and forests with trails nearby.  Community shopping that can be within walking or biking distance, as well as access to public transportation.

So go-ahead.  If you must add rooms or apartments, stack 'em high.  But retain some open space for the critters and we humans, who need to maintain that bond with nature, for our good health, sanity, and enjoyment.

The Peace of Wild Things -- by Wendell Berry  
When despair for the world grows in me 
and I wake in the night at the least sound 
in fear of what my life and children’s lives may be, 
I go and lie down where the wood drake 
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 

I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought 
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. 
And I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light. For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

  • Donation:  Donation to Green Sangha to ban single use plastic bags.  Please check out the fun video on the topic.
  • Exercise: Walking on Patch Barracks (15 mins)

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Day 46: The Spirit Conquers

    Bouquet in the Rain, placed at the Indian Memorial, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 2011,
    Panasonic DMC-ZS7, 35mm focal length equiv. 25mm, Exposure 1/30 sec @ f3.3, ISO 100, no flash
     © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

    This is a beautiful bouquet of flowers, that was placed at a memorial to Dutch citizens and soldiers that lost their lives in Japanese prison camps during WWII, in what was then the Dutch East Indies.

     It had rained the previous day, and was still quite foggy, giving everything an eerie backdrop.  The sculpture itself is rather eerie; have a look:

    The Spirit Conquers, Indian Memorial, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 2011,
    Panasonic DMC-ZS7, 35mm focal length equiv. 25mm, Exposure 1/30 sec @ f3.3, ISO 100, no flash
     © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

    The title of the sculpture, "De Geest Overwint" translates to "The Spirit Conquers", which I think is such a powerful phrase.

    When faced with such adversity, it is the power of the spirit that will bring you solace.  It will guide how you respond to such extreme conditions, and ultimately, define who you are.

    May our spirits lead us, instead, to treat our fellow brothers and sisters with charity and grace in the years to come.

    • Donation:  To Carl D. (via Carlo), who is washing dishes to raise money for the Pine Street Inn, whose mission is to end homelessness, in Boston Mass
    • Exercise:  Walking at NATO HQ on Ramstein AB (15 mins)

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Day 45: Happy Valentine's Day

    Love in the AlpsSchwarzsee along Lötschentaler Höhenweg, Switzerland, July 2010,
    Nikon D5000, 35mm focal length equiv. 27mm, Exposure 1/320 sec @ f9.0, ISO 200, no flash
    © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

    Happy Valentine's Day to everyone, and especially to my valentine.

    What's that?  Can't be sure to whom I am referring based on the picture above?

    Well, fair enough.  Let me remove any ambiguity with this little movie below.

    You bring out my inner hippee, Carol.  Hee, hee.  Love ya!

    • Donation:  to Kitchen Gardeners to promote kitchen gardening, home-cooking, and sustainable local food systems
    • Exercise:  Short run to check out my new FiveFingers Vibrams, 3.4 mi (30 mins), which by the way worked great!

    Day 44: Scaling the wall

    Scaling the Wall, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO, November 2007,
    Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, focal length 17.3mm, Exposure 1/40 sec @ f5.8, ISO 200, no flash, 
     © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

    So how big is that proverbial wall that you need to scale?  Does it seem impossible?

    If it seems so, then it probably is.  You really need to believe you can achieve your goal to be able to navigate all of the obstacles that you find in your way.

    But if this is something that you really want.  And if you can visualize yourself reaching your goal.  Then I doubt there are any barriers that you cannot overcome or circumnavigate.

    Or maybe you have another ally on your side: fate.  Have a read of this heart-warming story in anticipation of Valentine's day.  

    (Oh, and by the way, if you want other uplifting stories to find your inbox, consider subscribing to their daily newsletter.)

    • Donation:  to Friends of the Amherst Library, in my home town
    • Exercise:  Short walk with Frito and Carol (30 mins)

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Day 43: Ingenious

    Seeds on the Wind, Amherst, NH, November 2007,
    Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, 35mm equiv. focal length 27.8mm, Exposure 1/125 sec @ f8, ISO 80, no flash, 
     © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

    Nature surely is ingenious.  Take a look at that seed delivery mechanism -- wow, what a design.  The next breath of air that comes this way will carry those milkweed seeds far and wide.  Which is cool, because the milkweed is the plant where monarch butterflies undergo their metamorphasis.

    Now with this being such a good design, you might think nature would patent it, mass produce it, and make it as cheap and efficient as possible ;-)  But even better, nature just loves diversity.  Why take the risk that you end up with an evolutionary dead end.  So there are seeds that cling to animals.  Seed that are tasty to eat (but aren't digested), and so get the added benefit of, um, fertilizer wherever they are dropped.  And so on, and so on.

    It is really mind boggling how vast, how elegant, how diverse, and how fascinating our world has become through the universal principle of evolution.

    Oh, and here's something pretty ingenious too.  It's a human invention, and sure, it is primitive, but it certainly is clever.  Check out the short video of the man-made creatures that their Dutch creator hope will once day live on the beaches in the Netherlands.

    • Donation:  to Azada Bagirova via a Kiva loan to assist in creating her own business
    • Exercise:  Nice walk with Frito and Carol (45 mins)

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    Day 42: Who says the party's over?

    The Party's Over, Amherst, NH, New Year's Day 2008,
    Nikon D40, 35mm focal length equiv. 54mm, Exposure 1/60 sec @ f4.5, ISO 200, with flash, exposure bias -2/3,
     © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

    The party's over.  The friends are gone, the uneaten food has been put away, the dishes washed, and even all those drinking glasses have been cleaned.  Yes, we had some eclectic drinkers that night.

    But who say's the party has to be over?  Who says one has to save parties for New Year's Eve, or birthdays, or even just weekends?

    Why must it be party and non-party?  Why can't it be all one big continuous party?

    I don't mean some drunken-frathouse weeklong-banger.  I mean seeing life as the party.  With all the anticipation, the friendliness, the sociality, the camaraderie, and with enjoyment, all the time, that might otherwise be relegated to those special occasions.

    You say the "rest" of your life -- that work-a-day world -- doesn't fit the definition of a party?  Well perhaps that's the thing you need to examine.  What is it you fear about finding work, or making your current work situation, something you enjoy enough that you can consider it to meet the criteria of your life's party?  

    I read this blog post called "The Great Fear".  It's a well-written wake-up call to those who have too much inertia, or too many reasons stopping them from being the life of their own party.  But in that blog, I particularly enjoyed this quote about "My Greater Fear":
    "For me, I have what I will call, for lack of a better term, My Greater Fear. It is that I will live a perfectly unexceptional existence with this exceptional chance I have been given. My Greater Fear is that I will rot beneath a matrix of fluorescent lights staring at the carpeted walls of a cubicle, or that I will wake knowing exactly what I will be doing every minute of every day for the rest of my waking life, or that I will wait until I am old and enfeebled to give myself permission to live."
    Yowsa!  That does indeed sound like the greater fear.  So come on.  Make your life the party you want to crash, and then go crash it!  We only have one ticket for this merry-go-round.  So make the most of it.

    • Donation:  to the site of this blog post, the Path Less Pedaled.
    • Exercise:  Walking around Einsiedlerhof, Germany on my work trip (15 mins).