Accepting reality

Rock does not care. Gravity does not care. The vast majority of the population of the planet does not care. I am up on a beautiful rock wall looking down. I see friends climbing, getting ready to climb, or taking a break after having just finished climbing. Looking out past the end of the canyon I see beautiful snow covered mountains. 

This is me in the moment. Focusing on what is directly in front me. This is a learned skill. I learned this in a meditation hall and had it reinforced on granite, sandstone, and myriad other rocks. As the man said, “Reality is what is left over whether you believe in it or not.” For me this is the beauty in climbing. Did I manage to stick a hold? The objective truth of it is readily apparent and not open to debate. Climbing is clean in that way. It doesn’t care. You can or you can’t. The beauty is in the challenge. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Accepting reality

Prison, it’s not what you think

Here is a letter I sent out to some friends after working at a for profit prison in Montana. I was reminded of this while listening to the amazing Hari Kondabolu and W. Kamau Bell podcast Politically Re-Active.

Hey gang,

Just a little update on what is happening in Nat-land. As many of you know I just spent the last two weeks working in a prison infirmary. I was both nervous and excited about spending time in a prison. In a blatant display of my ongoing infantile view of the world I’m still fascinated by crime and criminals, I guess I will always be 12 on the inside.

The first thing to know is that you don’t want to know. All criminal information is public information by default. As such you can fire up the google and find out why people are in prison. Don’t. If you have to work with people who have done terrible things it will be substantially more difficult to make small talk when you know that they are what your nightmares are made of.

The second thing to understand about prison is that the lighting is horrible. Terrible in a way that can easily induce headaches. The third thing to know, it is loud. The hard, grey and beige colored surfaces resonate every sound. These things alone would drive a well adjusted person crazy. I can only guess at how these impact the already unstable felons, constant low-grade stressors that prevent rest.

The last thing to know, you cannot get healthcare in a prison. This is largely the result of the inability of the prison I was at to find doctors who are willing to live in rural Montana. As a result the on-call doctor is often listed as the local hospital. This presents a number of challenges but the most glaring is that the doctors at the hospital don’t have access to the inmates’ medical records. The result is inmates just waiting until there is a doctor on shift.

For inmates who need constant medical monitoring they are put in to 8’x12′ cells without windows. This includes patients who are on suicide watch. When I asked about the obvious negative impact that living in dark cave might have on someone with a deteriorated mental state I was told “Well, it’s for security.” This sort of blanket non-answer was what I was told about most of the dysfunctional structures I observed. You might have guessed, correctly, that most inmates will just avoid medical help to avoid being stuck in those cells. Dealing with patients in those cells was where nearly all conflict in my time came from. One patient, had gone to surgery and needed to see a doctor before he could be discharged. There was no doctor on shift for several days though so he just had to sit in his hole. He was pretty upset. By the end of his time in there he was in pretty rough shape mentally.

As I say this please don’t be confused, I am not advocating for the “easy” treatment of people who have done more harm than good to society. What I am advocating is for humane systems. As a healthcare provider it is disconcerting to me that the stated goal can be care when what is happening is harm. This sort of upside down logic that war is peace and freedom is slavery was whole-heartedly embraced by the people working there. It is easy to understand. If you remain concerned in a place like that you’d go crazy. There are large systems in place determined to keep that prison and the criminal legal system the way it is. Rather than fighting for a system that reduces recidivism it is easier for the guards and everyone else to write the inmates off as less than human and hope they don’t get out. The loss of humanity is tragic and predictable.

Despite all of that my time there was amazing. Although it wasn’t the clinical experience I was hoping for I did learn a lot. I was hoping for more medical experience but instead it was more like working in a doctors office, taking vital signs, filling out paperwork etc. However, I did assist with two emergency situations (an attempted suicide and a heart attack). Those were both interesting. I was able to talk to some kids (an 19 and 20 year old respectively) about problems solving skills and how to avoid coming back to prison when they got out. Lastly, I was able to teach one inmate how to meditate, which hopefully can be a relief for his mental distress.

If you made it this far thanks for sticking through the rambling letter. I hope you’re all well.


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Prison, it’s not what you think

Do we have the right to grieve?

The obvious and correct answer is yes. The heart of the question is if we (first world consumers) are the cause of the loss/destruction/event that results in our grieving is grieving the right word? Behavior like that is my pathological than empathetic. To be upset by the result of your actions and not change them isn’t much of an indictment of the world we live in so much as it is an indictment of ourselves. These are just some cursory thoughts that I intend to explore more in writing about meditation, the outdoors, and creating internal peace. More soon, be well. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Do we have the right to grieve?

What are you training for?

I work on the 7th floor of an 11 story building. On any day there is downtime Youre likely to find my laboriously wheezing my way up and down the stairs. I’m not particularly fit and the strain often makes me wonder if I’m having a heart attack. One of my coworkers asked, “What are you training for?” I replied, “Life.” I wasn’t trying to be oblique or difficult. That was the most honest answer I could provide. Despite having a job that requires a high degree of competence in communication I still manage to fail at basic conversation. 

What I was feeling too lazy to say was that I don’t exercise with a specific goal in mind. I exercise because when I see the opportunity to have an amazing adventure it has always required me to push myself mentally and physically. The physical part is easy, more or less. I have little regard for my own comfort or safety so can walk up stairs all day despite the sense of impending coronary failure. It’s when my body is still capable but my mind says “No!” that it is difficult. 

Realizing that my personal goals could be sabotaged by my mind was quite the startling discovery for me. It has really been a series of interconnected realizations that I don’t think I’ve really finished unpacking yet. 

It started for me on my first mountain. A friend led a group of us up Mt. St. Helens. We had ample notice that it would be a long and difficult hike e.g. “You need to train” but I did not follow that advice. I assumed that like my entire college career I could put it off and catch up at the last minute. 

As the day drew nearer I found myself focusing on the singularly most unimportant aspects of the trip. Should I bring a glass bowl for base camp? Is the expense of camping dishes warranted. Deciding it wasn’t I opted for the local Goodwill where I found that for a mere two dollars I could purchase a set of four faux Chinese dessert bowls. With only my companions in mind I purchased all of them, promptly washing them and placing them with my equipment. I similarly happened upon a mostly functional straw hat, a handkerchief, and a lovely set of earthen coffee mugs. Having so thoroughly prepared I added a few water bottles and my hiking clothes and considered it done. 

After a nice night at the foot of the trail we woke early the next morning. After breakfast I set out with my more well prepared friends, eager and overconfident. 
It first dawned on my that I wasn’t in great shape late in the morning as we were scrambling up the boulder field. Although I have always loved climbing things I was a bit out of practice and feeling a little run down already. To avoid falling or otherwise hurting myself I had to slow down. My mind began recycling self-criticisms about not being good enough or well enough prepared, despite the obvious fact that with a little attention I was managing just fine. As the day wore on the internal chatter continued.  

The final stretch to the top is covered in the sandy ash remains of the mountain’s top. Every step results in a slight sliding back and down. For every step you took on a rock trail you need to take two or three on Helens. It was pretty demoralizing. 

Being too prideful to call it quits in front of my friends I pushed myself. I would take a few steps and then stop. It wasn’t working. There was no way I was going to make it. Eventually to calm my mind and measure my progress I made a deal with myself. I could rest as long as I need to but if I started I had to take ten steps. It removed all questions. If I was resting I was resting.  If I was walking it was for at least ten steps. It could always be more but at least ten steps. 

As I approached the top friends and strangers began shouting down encouragement. I got there. It seemed unreal. Sweat pouring down my face I looked around at the amazing view before collapsing and proceeding to eat my lunch like a an undernourished stinger attacking a bag of Doritos. High fives all the way around, simultaneously exhilarating and underwhelming. I was so worn out that I had a hard time taking in the beauty. Predictably the top was gorgeous. The sense of accomplishment was great but had I really been able to accomplish the hardest physical task in my life up to that point simply by counting and ignoring my internal dialogue? Yes. 

It was the first time I realized that a lifetime of taking the easy route had severely limited my world. I knew that I had many more mountains to climb to finish unpacking the lessons they hold. 

Posted in Adventures, Meditation, Pondering | Comments Off on What are you training for?

Separating the worker from the work

I woke up groggy and unable to get back to sleep. I took the dog out to go to the bathroom and put her back in bed. She looked at me curiously, as if to say “You’re clearly insane for not getting back in bed.” As I made my way downstairs to fix breakfast I was recalling listening to an interview with Ted Leo and Aimee Mann in which it was revealed that he likes to sing Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” when he does karaoke. Not having a clear memory of the song I gave it a listen. It is still terrible. However, YouTube has a long history of what I like and quite appropriately recommended I listen to this:

I love that song! Everything I know about Axl Rose from that time in his life leads me to believe that we would probably not have gotten along. That may still be true. The disgusting levels of opulence, the gross objectification of women, and the general hedonism all make me think that I really wouldn’t like him.

What’s that mean for his work though? I am certain that there are a number of people involved in the production of the oats I eat for breakfast that I wouldn’t get along with; yet I still eat my oats. Should an artist’s beliefs and attitudes dictate whose work we celebrate? Should I not listen to Guns n’ Roses? To rephrase it: by listening to, and in effect implicitly supporting, a gross artist am I supporting their beliefs? Clearly, in a monetary way I am.

But if I only limit myself to people who more or less strictly agree with me I’m likely to lose perspective on the variety of beliefs and ways of living that exist in the world and find myself even more out of touch. For more on how the search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc)  encourage this echo chamber effect this I’d recommend checking out the work of Eli Pariser. It seems pretty clear that living in echo chamber is in large part why we (the United States) are in the shape we are in.

More on this later. I’ve got to take the dog for a walk now that she is up.

Posted in personal philosophy, Pondering | Comments Off on Separating the worker from the work

The state that I am in

Good morning! Or not. I haven’t been awake for more than an hour and I’m already wondering why I got out of bed. If you don’t have time to watch the point is made that the Republican party is openly and willingly taking a stand (i.e. shut down the government) based on the writings of an openly racists man.

This made me think of this:

Which in turn made me think of this:

If you’re having trouble following along with my meandering train of thought let me be more explicit. In thinking of how structural racism is enforced it starts at the top (Republican policymakers basing decisions on the writing of a racist) and then ends up in our neighborhoods when police start dispersing protestors who take to the streets and are audacious enough to ask for equal representation.

Posted in News, Pondering | Comments Off on The state that I am in

Thoughts from a picture

The picture is small, grainy, faded, and far away
its subject matter not immediately clear
it seems to be a wide angle shot of mountaineers ascending a mountain, taken from a distance
the sound of the neighbor’s door shutting draws my attention away
returning to the image I realize that it is a close up of a woman in a white coat, the black spots that I mistook for climbers either a stain or the result of poor development
the landscape beyond the mountain a park
wondering, hoping to have a new revelation, hoping to have my vision thrown for a loop once more.
I look away,
I return
She is still there
white coat, park
I notice this time there is a road in the background
How did I not see these obvious details before.
What sort of mountain did I see?
I look away
I return
She is still there
white coat, park, street
I squint, hoping to wash away the years of neglect and light damage
My straining yielding no new details but some questions
Are those trees? Is the road paved? Is that really a road? Maybe it’s just a path.
I look away
I return
She is still there
white coat, park
My eyes tired of straining, drive me to the picture,
The park is now suspect. If that IS a trail is that a park or forrest? Is she just in a glen? Is that even a she? The features are indistinct.
I look away
I return
White coat, park

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Thoughts from a picture

Love, valentines, etc.

I want you to know that people love you. you might not belive it but it is true. People who’ve you never met you. People who don’t know who you are or what you’ve done, truly and deeply care about you. Some of us become monks or nuns. Some of us become social workers. Some of us got to shitty jobs and just do the best that we can. But what unites us is love.

I want you to know this because the world is both amazing and terrifying. If you look for too long at its uglier aspects it’s easy to wonder, “Why bother?” Bother to keep the humans species going. Bother to work for peace. Bother to get out of bed. It’s different for everyone of course, but for me the anser lies in the possible. We have the ability to become better as a species. I know because I’ve become a better person, and when I was at my worst someone I didn’t know helped me out.

I want you to know this because there are dark days in everyone’s life. Often it’s hard to know what to think. I want you to know this because I’ve felt alone and down and out. I believed the lie that I was alone in my struggles.

I want you to know because I love you.

Posted in personal philosophy | Comments Off on Love, valentines, etc.

Not so lost in the Land of Enchantment

For Christmas my sweetie promised to teach me how to cross-country ski. Last weekend she took me up to Taos and I learned to ski! It was quite fun. Now I’m hoping to take on down-hill.

We stayed at a condo she had rented that was close to the main plaza so we could walk around and see the sites, as it were. We eventually found ourselves in a Western wear and memorabilia shop. We were going to skip it but thank god we didn’t! While there I found a few postcards that I liked and then noticed a belt buckle with a giant “N” on it. Meghan and I talked about it but after looking at the price I blanched. The owner happened to be sitting near by and he noticed my hesitation. He chimed in with “I’ll make you deal on that.”
“OK, what you’re offering”
“How’s $20.” He had it originally priced at $149.
“Done! That’s quite the bargain sir, thank you.”
After that we began talking about Taos and what we had been up to. Eventually it came up that I’m heading to nursing school and that Meghan is a teacher. At which point he handed me my card and the buckle and said “I want you to have that. I try to do anything I can to help someone who is committing their lives to helping people.”

I lost my words. I felt so humbled by this man. I told him thank you and how much I appreciated his generosity. The conversation then turned to where we would live. He quite rightly pointed out that not all places are the same, more to the point that not all towns are the same.

Taos is a small town, it’s not particularly easy to get to and it’s not near any urban centers. But it has a thriving arts community. This makes a world of difference. Unlike many small towns that have the feeling of time standing still hanging over them Taos, and similar places, have the urban feeling of liveliness but without all the traffic or drug problems.

This sort of experience is what gives me hope. People acting out their hopes is what is going to bring enable the human race to continue as a species. Particularly when those hopes are tied to the betterment of all beings. In my own life, my sense of ability changed remarkably when I decided on a course of action. A course of action, which focused not only on my own happiness but on the well-being of those around me. I cannot over state the importance of this. We are all interconnected.

In the United States we’ve fallen under the myth that the pursuit of individual happiness is the height of freedom. I believe the freedom of thought, expression, and speech is of the utmost importance. However to let people with no medical training or knowledge make public decisions is tantamount to letting someone without engineering training decide what the safety tolerances for a plane should be.

But where to begin? In a most obvious and hilarious irony it begins with individuals improving themselves. What I mean by that is not simply some self-help, bargain book, type of “improvement” but doing the actual hard work of being a better citizen and person generally. Meaning contributing meaningfully to your community and the lives of those around you. It can take as many forms as there are people on the planet, but a better world begins with actions, not just thoughts.

Posted in Adventures, Pondering | Comments Off on Not so lost in the Land of Enchantment

…like opinions, everybodys got one

Is the United States becoming more polarized? Hard to say. This is one of those squishy things that there actually aren’t very good measures for. Given that we once had a civil war I’d say we’re not quite there yet. But what is everybody talking about? In the recent online debates (which really is an abuse of the term debate) online about gun control I’ve seen all many of horrible logic employed. Just about every fallacy that could be used has been, on both sides of the argument.

That said the hysteria seems to mostly come from folks who are concerned (paranoid?) that the government is coming to take their guns away. Why? Where is this concern coming from? It’s coming from their own side. No one in any position of authority has even floated the idea that taking guns away was on the table. NO ONE.

But that is the nature of most debates. As a population we are not particularly well informed. This is why politicians who couldn’t write a lesson plan to save their life feel perfectly fine acting as experts on education. This is why people who like guns think that they’re experts on public safety. Having an opinion doesn’t make you, me, or anyone else an expert. You know what does? Training, research, and studying copious amounts of verifiable data. All things that are too boring for the average arm-chair politician.

I haven’t done that research so I have stayed out of the recent gun control debate. I have opinions I just know that they’re based on feelings rather than facts, you know, like most of us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on …like opinions, everybodys got one