Saturday, September 26, 2015

The beautiful and bountiful Oregon Coast

It's a beautiful day on the Oregon Coast! Just thought I'd share this webcam view with you, from Yaquina Lighthouse near Newport, Oregon. For those of you who wonder why I live 'way up here in the north.' 'Cause it's beautiful!

Not much going on. Late football game, so I'm whiling away a long morning (awake at 3am, up at 5am) until time to leave to catch a bus to take me to town, where I plan to enjoy some good fish&chips (using cod caught on the Oregon Coast) before doing some walking errands. Don't know if I'll do as much as I planned -- my eyelids are drooping, wanting sleep, and the body overall feels like it has a hangover, even though the last alcohol I had was one beer last Sunday. So don't know how much energy I'll have for walking. Even the minimum (to the fish&chips shop from the bus stop, and from there to another bus stop) will be plenty. The side trips remain in question, but are not urgent.

Maybe I'll get a nap before the game starts at 5:30. One can hope!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Equanimity reboot

A few months ago I applied to attend another 10-day meditation retreat at Dhamma Kunja, the Goenka center in Onalaska, Washington, in October. It was either a moment of weakness, or a moment of strength. Maybe some of both. Weakness, meaning I momentarily lost my resistance to these retreats, and strength meaning I had the guts to take on another one. They are particularly difficult. I was approved for the retreat, but number 21 on the waiting list. It didn't seem possible that I'd work my way to a seat from that point, and I almost took my name off the list. Kind of lost all interest in going, truthfully. The moment of weakness was gone!

Then, a few days ago, a notice that I've moved to number 6 on the list, asking me to let them know if I'm no longer able to attend. Somehow -- another moment of weakness/strength -- I felt as if I might feel like going now, so I haven't taken my name off the list and am, in fact, beginning to look forward to going. I have a strong emotional attachment to Dhamma Kunja. It's my place. This is where I went for my first ever meditation retreat, back in February of  2005, and where I returned a couple of months later for 2 weeks of service in the kitchen. I love it -- have missed it, living back east. There's something magical there, for me. Maybe it's the cool view of Mt. Rainier in the distance, or just the vibes in the beautiful meditation hall. Whatever, it's something I'm drawn to experience again. And, in the years since my last visit, they've built a new dorm for the women that's apparently pretty cool. No more dorm rooms full of cots. These are double rooms with attached baths. Unheard of!

Part of what makes these retreats so tough is the pain associated with sitting for many hours every day. Remember awhile back when I went to a local, 1-day sitting? Whined and moaned about that, the back pain, the mental difficulties. My first retreat was dominated by extreme, excruciating back pain, something that's hard for a beginner, in particular, to cope with. In later years I've spent many hours in various retreats, built up good 'meditation muscles' that keep the back happy during long hours of sitting. But the 1-day proved to me that those muscles are now seriously weak from lack of use.

Time for training! I have time -- about 3 weeks before the retreat begins -- so I've begun the process of getting those 'meditation muscles' back into shape. Yesterday, a mere 30 minutes made the back start to scream. This morning, another 30 minutes, and only twinges toward the end. The plan is to gradually increase both the amount of time at each sitting, and the number of sittings daily, because the fear of all that misery is just too strong. The meditation cushion will be used as a chair, for TV watching, during this time. I may not make the retreat, but getting the muscles back into shape can't hurt anything, and at least I'll be ready.

Will I be emotionally ready? That's tougher. It took me something like 8 years after that first experience back in 2005 to get the guts to try another. I went to many retreats during those 8 years, many of them really tough ones, but these 10-day Goenka retreats are by far the hardest. Thankfully, for the second retreat my muscles were well-conditioned and all I had to deal with was the mental aspect. That's often as hard or harder to cope with than the physical pain, because the back pain is easily alleviated temporarily by getting up and walking for awhile. But nothing gets you away from your own head! Strictly silent, with even looking at another meditator being frowned upon, there is no escape from whatever is going on inside the mind-body organism as it copes with the silence, the lack of escape, and all the rest of it.

So why do I go? Because I always learn a lot, gain a lot from the experience. Last time, in south Georgia, I spent the entire time frustrated and bored. Spent a lot of time mentally designing a kind of meditation cushion that would be comfortable for those long hours. Because even if the muscles are in good shape, and even if you have the most comfortable cushion available (mine is an air cushion, and I wouldn't trade it for any other kind), sitting on it for 8-10 hours a day results in a really sore butt. I also managed to reach a stage of deep concentration a couple of times, when I'd manage to let go of all the external stuff and simply practice the technique that is taught, and that's always a good thing.

It's all mental -- including coping with the pain and boredom and frustration. Those are all mental states that you can choose to ignore, or choose to think about. They're best ignored. Training the mind to remain equanimous in all situations is what the practice is all about. No highs and lows, no anger or sorrow. Merely a lovely state of equanimity, which is pretty darned cool. I much prefer it to the old days when I'd react strongly to life's events with anger or tears. It's not that I don't have emotions or feelings about things that happen, it's that I'm able to look at the emotions differently and realize that true happiness and contentment with life lie with the middle ground of equanimity. This is the way of life taught with Buddhist training. It's what following this Buddhist path is all about. I need some reminding, some deep practice, to help cope with this low-level depression and the frustrations and boredom of my current life. I react equanimously -- am well-trained to do so -- but I'm less successful with keeping the frustrations and boredom from affecting my days. Time for a reboot!

I'll miss two football games, but when I chose this particular retreat I was looking at the retreat schedule alongside a Ducks schedule and felt that these were two games I wouldn't mind missing -- both against teams in Washington, coincidentally enough. Speaking of football, there's a game coming up this morning, but it's rather a snooze. I'll watch, of course, but it's likely to be a rout, the underdog coming into Autzen Stadium and being walloped. Even with (probably) our back-up quarterback playing.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Baking season. And oh, yeah. Football

It's baking season. Somehow, as soon as the weather cools off I want to bake. And it really is more about the baking than the eating.

Case in point -- I made this luscious olive/rosemary bread yesterday, stuck it in the freezer and fridge, intending to have some with lunch today. That happened -- I had one small slice with my rotisserie chicken. The rest is awaiting me.

But the baking -- now, that's a different matter. This time, I particularly got into the act of kneading. Awkward at first, because it's been awhile, but before long I was punching and pushing that dough around like crazy. I almost went off into another world, working automatically. I  love to bake. The recipe calls for two large loaves, but I learned years ago that it works better for me to divvy it into 6 small loaves. This makes it easier to eat small amounts at one time. One loaf is perfect for two hungry people to devour with dinner. Or for one hungry person to enjoy for a few days, while it's still fresh.

I mixed this dough up yesterday, refrigerated and baked it off after lunch today. These are giant cookies -- about 4 inches diameter. Some months ago I was intrigued by a recipe for one chocolate chip cookie that I found in some of my browsing news sites. It's for people like me, who want a cookie, but don't want to bake a whole batch of them. I made the mistake of thinking that I'd need two of them, not realizing just how big they are. I'm nibbling away on one of them -- the other, like the bread, awaits another day. If you ever decide to try the recipe, trust it and make only one.

The cookie is good -- but not as good as Kitty's Best Damn Cookies. She says modestly. But then, it has fewer ingredients and I haven't perfected it for 25 some years. I'm guessing the issue is that the cookie contains only brown sugar, no white sugar. That adds a different flavor profile -- all that molasses that's used to make white sugar brown. I prefer a larger white/brown ratio, for flavor and also for crispness. Next time.  A few nuts wouldn't hurt, either.

So -- it's also football season, which was ostensibly the reason for wanting all this food today. I wanted to feast out, sort of my own tailgate, I suppose. But that idea seemed a lot better earlier in the week than it does today. I'm happy to have the food, will enjoy some of the bread with homemade hummus and beer once the game begins at 5pm. But I think what I really wanted was the making of the food, more than the eating. Baking always makes me feel better.

So -- four more hours to wait until the first game of the season. Looking forward to it. Stanford has already gone down -- one Pac 12 competitor knocked down the ladder a bit. I don't generally like to trash talk competitors before our game, because somehow I feel that karma will come back to bite me. I also tend to root for any Pac 12 member over any outside teams, but I'm happy to see Stanford go down, to anybody. Let's hope karma doesn't come back to bite me today.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Life at 7000 feet beneath the sea

Yeah, I'm still fascinated with the EV Nautilus and it's travels/explorations. Yesterday, they boogied about 190 miles west of Vancouver Island into deep water, to Ocean Network Canada's Endeavor station, a 'mid-ocean spreading ridge with very active hydrothermal vents'. They have various instruments there which record all kinds of things, including seismic activity.

Yesterday's dive started with a bit of drama. Just after launch, the crew saw on the camera that a camera cover that should have been removed before launch was still there (evidenced by a long red sash clearly reading remove before launch). They discussed taking it back on board, but that's a hassle, so the ROV Hercules pilot made use of one of the robot arms to grasp and remove the item, then hold it close to the ROV until they hit bottom. Then, trying to store it in a bin, they dropped it, retrieved it from the bottom and finally got it put away. Really fun to watch the delicate operations of these remotely controlled arms in performing their work. Pardon the poor quality of these photos, but screen shots of moving items are never really clear. The video is HD and beautifully clear.

Retrieving the dropped item from sea floor.
Getting the dropped item into the storage bin. They made it.

Then, they went on to their first official chore, which was to attach a recovery beacon to a sediment trap anchored to the ocean floor, being brought up after a year of service so the contents can be studied. Once the trap is released from the floor, it'll float to the surface and the beacon will allow them to find it wherever it drifts. Another delicate operation involving both arms of the ROV.

Ready to attach the recovery beacon, left, to the trap.

Shortly afterward, they spotted this old chain and anchor rusting away down there. Wonder how long that's been there, and what ship dropped it? We'll never know.

This was all happening last night and while they work around the clock, I don't. This morning they are still at it, doing a photo-mapping survey of the ocean floor so they can make a 3-D map of it. Great images. I don't know what the instrument is in this one, but the ocean bottom down here is interesting, so I did a quick screen shot.

Tubeworms growing near thermal vents at around 7200 feet. It's still cold down there -- about 35 fahrenheit, although the scientists say that near the thermal vents it's about 300 C, which according to Google is about 572 F.  Fascinating listening to the scientists talk about what we are seeing.

Active thermal plume spewing 'black smoke'
Some kind of deep sea skate -- they're not sure which one

They've just announced the plan for the next 12 hours, so they'll be down here all day. Check it out!
a mid ocean spreading ridge with very active hydrothermal vents - See more at: