Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Panama City Beach

Jim and I got back a while ago from visiting my parents in Panama City Beach, where they usually rent a condo for about a month each year. Happy to say that the water and the beaches were absolutely pristine! No tarballs that we could see.  Of course, some of the 'tarballs' that are sometimes shown by the media are really just dead sea slugs. Definitely disgusting but not the fault of BP. Still, the place was a bit deserted as you can see from this picture taken from the balcony of the condo. Beautiful beaches and not a lot of people...a perfect combination. (Click the pic for a bigger view).

We went deep sea fishing but, this time, Poseidon wasn't with me. I caught one fish, a sea bass that wasn't large enough to bother carting off to be cleaned. Actually none of us really did that well. However, I honestly can say that I enjoyed the fishing regardless of the catch (or lack thereof). It's just great being on the water. I think it would be worth it to pay extra and have fewer people on the boat so that things could be even more laid back. So strange, because I never thought I'd have the patience for fishing.

Only bad thing was that, on the flight home, we descended into Chicago rather quickly and I was suddenly struck by a sharp pain behind my brow. It literally felt like capillaries in my forehead were bursting, and it hurt bad enough for  me to lean forward and grunt. Jim was a bit worried, and the flight attendant was virtually useless. Jim asked for an icebag, and that did the trick. Best of all it reassured me I wasn't having anything serious happen. Turned out to be a sinus infection, and I've been on antibiotics to kill it ever since.

Lesson: Don't ever get seriously ill on a plane. When I looked at the flight attendant during the exchange, I could see a thought bubble over her head with the words "Oh God, no! Not on my shift!"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jersey Shore Night Out

I do NOT watch The Jersey Shore, but we're having a team outing to a new nightclub called Lit. Pauly D from The Jersey Shore will be there (apparently DJing ). Someone on my team superimposed our faces onto the bodies of the human slime that makes up the cast. I have the dubious honor of having my head placed on the body of The Situation. It's a funny picture, and I must admit that I'm looking forward to a night at a posh club with friends.

Mumonkan, Koan 5: Kyogen's 'Man Up In A Tree'

Kyogen Osho said: "It is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch with his mouth; his hands grasp no bough, his feet rest on no limb. Someone appears under the tree and asks him, 'What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?' If he does not answer, he will lose his life. What would you do in such a situation?"

This was an easy one. I would say nothing, because it's impossible for anything I might say to answer the question. Such a question can only be answered by the person asking it. For example, the answer would be very different for someone who has attained enlightenment versus someone who thinks Zen is bunch of new age mumbo jumbo. Trying to spoon feed meaning to someone is futile; we all have to figure things out for ourselves.

Even more fundamentally, there is no meaning in his coming from the West. The action itself has nothing to do with truth or Zen or anything. Sort of like the old adage of the man who travelled around the world, but when he came home he realized he had not moved an inch. I practice Zen to find truth, not to assign meanings to every random occurrence. That would be like trying to see a beach by handling each individual grain of sand one at a time.

On another note, I'm continuing to work on controlling my breathing and my posture while meditating and it does seem to have a positive impact on my ability to get into samadhi.  It also makes me more aware of my posture in general, which I find has been getting a little lax lately.

The Zen focus on breathing with the tanden (basically your guts) is something echoed from my martial arts training. I try to breath that way when I'm in class or practicing on my own, and I find it helps me not only keep from getting winded but also to catch my breath more quickly after a great deal of exertion. Martial arts and zen really do fit together!

Mumonkan, Koan 4 (update)

I've become satisfied with my answer to this one, so I checked Mumon's notes. His interpretation is akin to my reaction, but he's a bit more specific. He suggests that differentiating between Bodhidharma with a beard and without a beard is already focusing yourself in the wrong direction. Makes sense. Like people who complain about paintings of a black Jesus. Kind of missing the point.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Make that 252 miles

Turned out to be a nice day today...sorta. So I did a 26 mile ride. One of the benefits of this pseudo-Pete Retreat that I'm on is being able to throw away a few hours on a whim!

Temperature was fine when I started, but as the day went on it got unexpectedly hot mid to upper 80s) and then the wind started. I have never EVER E-V-E-R allowed myself to wuss out during a ride and walk my bike up a hill. But, this time, I just couldn't do it! The wind was blowing totally against me and it was a steep hill. Plus I haven't ridden in weeks, so I'm completely out of it. I feel such shame!

Okay, now for the good. It's getting close to being autumn.  The fields were just crammed with wildflowers, many that were grown to be taller than me! Yellow, purple, pale blue, white, plus the sumac was all reddish. Really pretty fantastic to see. Got some pics here (way bigger if you click on them). At one point I was riding along and I actually saw the 'amber waves of grain'. I guess the song meant to reference wheat fields, but the wild grasses I saw definitely would have me looking for 'purple mountain majesties' too if I weren't in Illinois. Best part was, I was practically alone on all these paths because it's Tuesday and everyone else is at work.

'Wildlife' sightings were pretty heavy too! Snakes must have been hatching recently because I spotted 11 or 12 snakes sunning themselves on the path.  That means I must have missed easily twice that number.  They were all a foot long or less, just common little snakes. The first one was just sitting right on the path and I almost ran him over. I stopped to try and scare him off, but he just tried to bite me so I figured he'll live and learn or die and regret. I just started counting them, rather than stopping to look, after number five (how easily jaded I am!).

A hawk was swooping around the marshlands (probably feeding on the smorgasbord of snakes).  I also spotted a big fat ugly toad. Touched his back, and he had the hard 'warts' and everything. If I was in third grade, I would totally have tried to catch him and take him home to my horrified parents as a pet. And then there was a frog than flopped right across the path. One big arc after another, like dark green and yellow ball of liquid metal.

Great ride, but my legs were completely blasted by pedaling against the wind. I took such a cold shower afterwards! Definitely going to be a movie-at-home night tonight! But as you can see from this panorama shot below, being outside in this kind of solitude is definitely worth a few aches and pains.

Monday, September 20, 2010

226 Miles?

That's how many miles we biked this year (to date), and it's not very impressive. Probably about half of where we should be. Of course, the cycling season isn't really over yet.  But the weather this summer just has not been conducive to much outdoor activity. Very disappointing.

I guess I need to get some of the cycling clothes that allow you to get out there in the colder weather too.  Probably the only way I can get the number of miles up this year. Sad.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back To Mineral Point

So, now that I have my pictures from Mineral Point downloaded off the Droid, I can finally do my blog entries. We went up there to visit our friends Daniel and Alan. Here's me and Jim at the Mineral Point hotel where we stayed (much bigger if you click on it). It's a 4-room B&B and, as you can see, Mineral Point is very Midwestern small town in appearance.  Even so, there's a lot of history as well as artists and small stores. I really got to like the picturesque 'main street' complete with its ice cream shop and breakfast joint (the Red Rooster).

Daniel has been coming up for decades, and so he seemed to know just about everyone we bumped into. This was helpful as we got to go down into some of the artists studios. Seeing these stone-walled, unfinished basements full of paintings, ceramics, wood carvings, or whatever in various stages of completion, along with reference materials and supplies made me really miss my artistic pursuits. The workspaces were just sizzling with creative energy!  One of the ceramics artists showed us how he works the clay for the mugs he is partially known for producing. It was just like Hapkido class, where you stand around and watch someone do something and just learn by seeing. It was great that they took the time to speak with us.  Definitely made the trip interesting.

The town is not a manicured 'small town' the way some of these weekend towns are. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It can be very nice and pleasing to the eye, but I also like the vibe from a town that isn't too self-conscious.  This was especially true as we went hiking around. We'd pass some of the old Cornish limestone buildings which are empty and no one has done much with, and it would be in the middle of a field like the one above. The shot at the left (click for larger view) was typical of the country right around the town. By the way, the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin really is great country.  Could definitely image what it would look like in the fall!

The town has a bike trail running through it that I think either is or is connected to the Military Trail up there that Jim and I had biked a bunch of years ago.  There's also a place where they have an art fair and you can try out different crafts: blacksmithing, ceramics, etc. Definitely sounds like PeteRetreat potential!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Farewell To Summer...

...not that summer was all that wonderful this year! We really didn't get a chance to bike too much because of the scorching heat and then, as soon as the heat abated, there was rain, more rain, and then clouds of mosquitoes. We weren't able to have the windows open nearly as much as we would have liked. Actually had to use the AC a lot....ick!

There was a short period with some nice weather again, and I was sitting outside reading when I saw this huge butterfly over by Jim's zinnias.  Was able to take a bunch of pics, but I think this one is the most impressive. It's a larger picture, so click to see more detail of this amazing little critter.

While we're sure to have some warm weather again before it's all over (and then there is Indian Summer). It's pretty clear to me that fall is here and that summer is over. Oh well, I love fall...and partially because it means fall clothes!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lazy Blogger

No, I have not given up on the blog. Just been a crazy couple of weeks. Mineral Point, Florida, etc. etc.  However, I have a five day weekend coming up, and I'll be spending most of it just bumming around the house. Will begin blogging again this weekend. Promise!