Category: Flotsam & Jetsam

Something that I do at church, and do really well, is read the scripture. I absolutely love getting up in front of the congregation to read the lesson.  I try to work through it ahead of time so that I know the context and can add the proper inflections to help people connect with the story. (Nothing worse than just a dry reading, but that’s what you see in most churches.)

Yesterday I was doing a reading from Isaiah.  I thought I had nailed it.  So I was surprised when I went back to my seat and Ellen leaned over and said “Better wear your glasses next time. You messed up some stuff.”  I was outraged.

Since one of my other jobs at church is to record the service, I was able to “go to the tape” when we got home. Turns out I messed up two words.

The verse was, “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”, and I said “Why do we fast, but you do not see? We humble ourselves, but you do not notice?'”  And the other verse was, “Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?”, and I said “Is such the fast that I chose, a day to humble oneself?”

But what really ticked me off was that I was offended – the hell I messed up!  I let my ego get the better of me and had to prove, ostensibly to myself but probably to my wife, that I was right.  Of course, I was wrong.

Damn. Gotta work on that one. Put the ego in the backseat, not the driver’s seat.

There was a meme going around on Twitter the other day called “tweetyour16yearoldself”, where you send a message to yourself as a 16 year old.  I didn’t think I could do that in 140 characters, so I decided to write my 16 year old self a letter.

Dear 16 year old me,

A couple of notes from yourself here in the future, with the “gift” of hindsight.

Stop grasping for perfection. You will never achieve it, try though you may, and it will make you miserable and unable to see where you have succeeded.

Nothing that you are going through, or will go through, is as bad as it will seem to you at the time. Take a deep breath, and look at the possibilities.

In a little over a year you will get into a fight during school. While it would be better to walk away, it will show you the true nature of one of your closest friends. (And the suspension will be totally worth it!) Trust your instincts – you didn’t need the fight to see this.

Right before you graduate, you will meet the guys who will be your friends for the rest of your life.

Look at things critically. Figure out what you believe in, and stand up for it. Don’t be afraid to get hurt.

It doesn’t matter what people think of you.  They aren’t all talking about you.  You are your own worst enemy in that respect.  Let it go.

Expand your musical horizons. Give those bands that are out of the mainstream a chance. You will like their music eventually, so why wait?

Speaking of different musical tastes – you know those girls with the dark makeup and multiple piercings whose lockers are down the hall from you? Yeah, the ones you were friends with in elementary school? The ones with the Dead Kennedys stickers. Go talk to them.

Be aware that in the future you will not be happy unless you are creating something. Feed that creative monster, and never settle. Take art classes (then you’ll have a reason to talk to those girls). Take photography classes. Push your bounds.

Don’t worry about relationships. Just being friends is okay. (Sometimes, even better.)

The studying and the grades are important, but do some (organized) extra-curriculars. Have some fun. Get involved.

That thing you guys are calling “existentialism”…it’s really more like Buddhism. Start learning about it. You are ready.

Get closer with your dad, he won’t be around forever. (And you will miss him more than you think is possible.)

Explore. Ask questions. Don’t settle. Investigate. Put your pre-conceived ideas away and experience life.

On second thought, let me rewrite that:

Dear Bill,

You will turn out just fine. Don’t change a thing.



Me at age 16

Me at age 16. Or close to it.

Lisa led me down the hall and pushed open the huge, thick door.  It swung open like it was protecting the mad scientist’s lab (or  NORAD).  Stepping inside, I discovered that it wasn’t too far off.   The room had but one window, and that looked in on The Machine.  Echoing off the walls was a mechanical ticking, grinding, pinging.  Lisa told me to empty my pockets, take out my earrings, and secure them in the locker.  Then she led me through the door into the room with The Machine.  This was my first experience with Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ActiveSteve


Lisa had my lie down on the table, and she put a pillow under my knees.  She secured my head between the headrest, which would prevent it from moving.  To add insult to (literal) injury, she added a mask-like device just above my face, that was supposed to help her (or The Machine?) isolate the cervical spine.  We talked a little about the diameter of the tube that she was preparing to stick me into – it was a little smaller than I had anticipated.  I told her I thought I would be okay, and let’s give it a try.  After I inserted the earplugs, she pressed some buttons and the table raised up, then I slowly was inserted headfirst (and backwards) into the giant machine.

As I slid backwards, there was a tugging at the top of my pants.  I quickly realized that the magnet was trying to grab my belt buckle.  The Machine was eager to get me inside it’s grip.  There were no lights on inside the machine, and although it wasn’t dark per se, it was rather ominous.  I lay there for a few seconds before deciding that I might not make it the 15 minutes that Lisa told me I would be in for.  I asked to be removed.

Knowing now what to expect, I took a few deep breaths, and tried to focus on how my body was reacting to the situation it was in.  Lisa gave me a “panic switch” to press if I needed, I gave her the nod, and I went back into The Machine.  This time focusing on my breathing, and with my eyes closed.

The thoughts started almost as soon as the table bucked to a stop.  The first one, and the one that kept trying to come back over and over was “What if I freak out? My first reaction will be to try to sit up.  I will hit my head on the tube, and will not be able to get out.  I will lie back down, even more freaked out and the cycle will repeat.”  I acknowledged the thought, let it pass, and focused again on my breathing.

Other thoughts tried to insert themselves.

“I’m never getting out of here.”


“Remember that CSI episode where the guy was buried alive?”


“Is this what the aliens will do when they capture me?”


“What is The Machine doing to my body?”


“Why must it make these banging noises?”


And, the weirdest one: “What do I do if I have to sneeze?”

As The Machine went through it’s cycles I tried to be mindful of what I was sensing, rather than the thoughts that were coming quickly.  In the second to last test, The Machine was making a series of pulse-like mechanical noises, and I started to really listen to them.  It was interesting to hear how the sound would start, stretch, and end.  With a little bit of concentration, I was able to slow down each “note”, and really listen.

The final sequence was accompanied by a five-minute long steady electro-mechanical hum.  While I wouldn’t call it exactly soporific, it did have a certain peaceful quality and I found myself relaxing a little more.  I discovered that I had been tensing my arms, and as they started to relax, they wanted to slide down toward the table.  I had to re-tense them as I had been told to lay as still as possible when The Machine was operating.  But I did let my mind drift a little, and was beginning to feel the familiar descent into sleep when suddenly The Machine stopped and Lisa said “We’re all done.”

After I was slid out, I sat up and welcomed the seemingly endless space of the small room I was in like it was an old friend.  I stumbled out of the room, grabbed my things and escaped into the fullness of the outside world.


…to really know someone, you have to look inside.

During that “in-between” time right after college (and before starting “real life”) I decided that I was going to learn to juggle.  I suppose it was the beginning of my “bucket list” – I wasn’t going to die before I could juggle.

I picked up a Klutz book and opened it up.  The first direction:  “Drop the balls on the ground.  Get used to that sound, as you’ll be hearing it a lot.”  Yep, they were right.  But after some, okay a lot, of practice, I got it.   Three balls.  In the air. Not on the floor.  Yay, me!

I enjoy it so much that I started juggling objects other than the hacky sack/beanbags that came with my set.  I was especially fond of koosh balls, because I could jam three of them in a pocket and take them with me anywhere.  And, if you take me to the toy section of the department store, I’m likely to be found juggling rubber balls in the aisle.  Even better is the sporting goods store!  I can really challenge myself there.  (Although I’ve noticed that the staff tends to frown on stray soccer/bocce/footballs bouncing around the store.)

This summer,  I decided that I wanted to learn to juggle other things – like clubs.  So, I picked up a set of clubs, and have been practicing with them.  I’m doing okay – I keep them in the air more than I drop them, but I still get backaches from bending over to retrieve scattered clubs (true story).  Although, it did prompt me to learn to do a real cool “kick-up” so I don’t have to bend over so much.

While juggling this summer, I was talking with Ellen about the tattoos we wanted to get for our 15th anniversary.  I knew I wanted a Buddhism-related one, and I had settled on an Om in a lotus, sort of stylized.  The key word was “settled”. It would have been cool, but it wasn’t speaking to me.  Since this would be my first tattoo, I wanted it to be just right.  I don’t know who suggested it, so I’ll give us each half credit, but someone said “How about a juggling buddha?”

Hello! Perfect!

I’m no juggling expert, and I’m no Buddhism expert, but I see a lot of connections.

Juggling reminds me a lot about what attracts me to the whole Meditation/Buddhism universe.

In juggling…

  • there are many distractions in your surroundings.  To keep the cascade going, you have to acknowledge the distractions and let them go.
  • you have to concentrate on what is in front of you, or it will fall apart.
  • if you try to grab for the balls/clubs, the cascade will fall.  You have to let them come to you.
  • when you catch, you must do so gently.
  • there are only so many things you can keep in the air.  As you practice, you get better at it.
  • when you are able to keep the cascade going, it’s a joyful experience.
  • what you think is real is an illusion.  Someone juggling 4 balls is really juggling 2 in each hand. (Shh…don’t tell.)
  • you have to let things go with the right velocity and rotation for them to arrive safely in your other hand.
  • it takes a lot of practice to see results.

Sound familiar?

In thinking about the design, I came up with the image of a “laughing buddha” to represent that joyful feeling of being able to keep everything in balance.  I chose five balls for him to be juggling, using the traditional colors of a prayer flag.  I decided that one should be on the ground, as it’s impossible to keep everything “up in the air” and we need to decide what things to put down.

When researching what the colors of the prayer flags meant, this is what I found out:

  • Blue: sky/space
  • White: air/wind
  • Red: fire
  • Green: water
  • Yellow: ground

Coincidentally, the one I had chosen to leave on the ground was the yellow one. Appropriate!

I had this image in my mind of what it would look like, but hadn’t done anything about it yet.  I then started sitting with the Online Meditation Crew, and saw that The Kamikazen was designing twitter avatars for some of the crew members.  I asked him if he would like to take a stab at this tattoo design.  Much to my surprise, and excitement, he said yes.

We spent a few days of back and forth with descriptions/drawings.  What I was looking for was different than his usual style, so he had to work a little outside his comfort zone, and I wasn’t very good at explaining what I could see in my head.  Once it was all said and done, this is what he came up with:

This was almost exactly what I was seeing in my head, with a little Kamikazen twist to it.

All the avatars that The Kamikazen had designed he turned into t-shirts that you can purchase.  This one is no exception.  You, too, can have this way cool design on a t-shirt (or a hoody, or long sleeve tee, or onesie, or a sticker), just by following this link*.  Proceeds from the sale of this t-shirt (and the other ones in the store*) go to charitable causes, so buy a couple of them!

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does!  Notice on the t-shirt there is some text below the design.  It says, “Balance…It’s all up in the air.”  This perfect tagline was added by the OMC’s founder ZenOutlaw!!

What a great collaboration – thank you KamikaZEN and Zen Outlaw!

Now, to get up the courage to get the ink put on…

*Update (9:00pm) – moments after I published this post, The Kamikazen announced the launch of the official Online Meditation Crew store.  The link in the article works (as of this writing), but for the latest up-to-date stuff go here:  I Want My OMC Gear! or, you can go right to the page with the Juggling Buddha.

Update (again) (9/13) – Just released!!! The Juggling Buddha in color!!  Get yours now!